Azerbaijani news sites shut down after ‘distorting president’s words’
The pro-governmental, Azerbaijani news agency APA and three of its affiliate outlets, lent.az, vesti.az and kulis.az, were shut down after ‘distorting’ the words of Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev on Armenian-Azerbaijani relations.
In a speech at an official event, Aliyev said: “If the leadership of Armenia continues to draw out the negotiations in the future, we will continue our policy of isolation, by using all [our] resources we will further weaken Armenia.”
In its report, instead of the phrase ‘we will further weaken Armenia’, APA wrote ‘we will put Armenia on its knees’. A note from the presidential administration followed, after which the article was taken down from APA and other sites which had reprinted it. Several hours later, the sites were not reachable. Given the practice of blocking sites in Azerbaijan, many came to the conclusion that APA had been ‘punished’ by the government.
APA has been around since 2004, and since then has earned itself a reputation as being a loyal ally to the authorities as well as a reliable source of ‘official’ information. APA works directly with state structures and announces their official statements and positions.
This issue is largely being ignored by the media, but journalists on social media and the public are discussing the event and putting forward hypotheses. Many journalists are defending the site, saying that such a serious news resource should not be closed because of one mistake.
Journalist Rashad Ergun, for example, wrote on his Facebook page:
“The immediate closure of APA and other sites connected to it is terrible. Without a trial or investigation. It shouldn’t be like this. There shouldn’t be such relations [between state and journalism -ed]. There shouldn’t be such a country. This is terrifying. There are no guarantees, neither in the professional field nor in life.”
Over the past few years, several independent websites have been closed in Azerbaijan, including Meydan TV and Radio Liberty. The ANS media holding company was closed by the National Television and Radio Council after the former announced it intended to air a broadcast with Fethullah Gulen who had been accused of orchestrating the 2016 coup in Turkey. The Ministry of Communications has blocked several local sites as well, having accused them of inciting ethnic hatred and supporting terrorism.