The attack on the unrestricted internet continues in Azerbaijan
The Azerbaijani authorities have once again started talking about strengthening control over social media and the internet as a whole.
Over the past few days, several politicians have spoken on this subject, causing considerable public outrage.
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The Azerbaijani constitution provides for a completely unregulated internet, and according to the statements of the government, the internet in Azerbaijan is completely free. MPs say their attempts to limit the internet at the state level are thus for the sake of the defence of human rights and statehood.
Who said what
“To prevent swearing at Azerbaijan from abroad, we can create our own social networks and close access to the rest. Thus, the danger can be avoided,” he suggested.
Another MP, Khadi Rajabli, does not want to cut off access to social media sites, but does believer it necessary to somehow deal with insults, abuse and slander against government officials on the internet:
“There [on the internet], they write and share such things that it is impossible to pronounce [them], it is a shame.”
And finally, Deputy Prime Minister from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, Ali Ahmadov, complained that on social media, it is impossible to “legally protect oneself” not only for officials, but also for ordinary citizens:
“It is very easy to insult anyone and subject them to utter terror, but there is no mechanism for self-defence. We need to find ways to stop this outrage. I’m absolutely against the restriction of the internet, but we need to find options for technical and legal control.”
Is the current law not enough?
This is not the first time that calls to control the internet in one way or another are being heard from the mouths of Azerbaijani MPs.
In 2017, the law on information, digitalization and protection of information was amended, according to which a site could be closed for publishing “prohibited information”.
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“Forbidden information” covers an impressive array of issues, from inciting violence to insults.
Thus, in 2017, the sites of Meydan.tv and Radio Azadliq (Azerbaijani edition of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty), which were especially vehemently criticized by the government, were blocked.
How dissent on the internet is limited in current practice
There have been several cases in which people have directly or indirectly suffered for criticizing the authorities on the internet.
For example, the blogger Abdul Abilov, who served several years on charges of drug trafficking, believes that the true reason for his arrest was his Facebook page Say No to Brown-Nosers [Az. Yaltaqlara dur deyək].
A student of Baku State University, Umman Safarov, claims that the university leadership threatened him with expulsion for posts against the government and the president, and even for ‘likes’ of such statuses.
Comments from social media
Users of Azerbaijani social media were outraged by the statements of deputies.
“And the deputies are not interested in what people are scolding them for?”
“Deputies are offended by the fact that they are written about in a negative way. And the people are insulted by the fact that a deputy’s average salary is many times higher than that of ordinary people. So who is more offended?”
“Well, let’s say someone scolds me on social media. It doesn’t matter to me. In fact, MPs are outraged by the fact that they cannot control the huge flow of information on the internet. Social networks reveal the incompetence of some officials, and they don’t like it.”