Azerbaijanis called in for questioning over coronavirus posts on social media
These are the first victims of the ban on spreading”harmful information”
Several people in Azerbaijan have been called in by police for questioning because of posts they wrote on Facebook about coronavirus.
These individuals say the police forced them to remove these posts and gave them a warning. This is an example of the new legislative amendments, which prohibit the spread of “harmful information,” in action.
Official data from March 25 states that there are 87 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Azerbaijan. One of the infected has died, and ten have recovered.
The quote and joke that prompted this response
Police took Amina Mammadova to the station directly from her house for her Facebook posts on government corruption, which said that the number of deaths from a coronavirus in Baku is artificially low.
“Everything I posted was a quote from someone else, and I made it clear that it was a quote. The police recited the new law to me and said that they were letting me off with a warning, because I am young, I’ll get married soon and my parents are good people,” the girl said, describing her stay at the police station and adding that she was treated well while she was there.
Another Facebook user, Bakhtiyar Mammadli, was called to the police for a joke about the entry ban in Baku
“The police questioned me about my life, forced to remove the post, and released me. I said that it was a joke, but they warned me not to try anything like it again, or it would be worse,” Bakhtiyar said.
On March 4, the prosecutor general’s office warned that it would take strict measures against media and social network users who spread information about coronavirus from unofficial sources.
On March 17, the Azerbaijani parliament amended the law “On Information, Informatization and Information Protection,” prohibiting internet sources from “posting false information that would endanger the life, health or property of the population, commit a massive violation of public safety, or hinder the activities of critical medical and life support institutions, as well as financial, transport, communication, industrial, energy or social infrastructure, or create any other social threat.”
Many in Azerbaijan took this to be another restriction on freedom of speech and recalled similar amendments made to the constitution in 2017.
“Normally, only the court can decide what information is false and harmful. But this law allows such a decision to be made without the court being involved, and for violators to be forced to take the information down and be held liable in other ways. This has happened before. Information that was true, but which had a strong influence on society, was interpreted as being in violation of this law, and was censored. The amendments open room for interpretation. In the future, this will lead to many abuses of power, which will not be subject to judicial control,” Alesker Mammadli, an expert in information law, told Turan.
Not just experts, but social media users are noting that just because information has not been confirmed by official sources does not make it false, and vice versa.