Web censorship cases drag on for 5th year in Azerbaijan
Blocked websites that cannot be accessed in Azerbaijan were first brought up in 2017, and, to this day, there has been no final legal verdict on the matter.
At the same time, the country’s president says that Azerbaijan is a country that does not censor the Internet; however, not so long ago, a number of social media platforms were blocked altogether.
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How did it all start?
In May 2017, the Ministry of Transport, Communications, and High Technologies of Azerbaijan filed a lawsuit to block five websites that distribute materials that were ‘unfavourable’ to the authorities.
These sites included Azadliq newspaper (the official media outlet of the opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan), Radio Azadliq (Radio Liberty), Meydan TV, Turan TV and the Azerbaijan Hour program.
Access to the international version of RFE/RL was blocked along with the Azerbaijani edition of the media outlet.
The Yasamal District Court of Baku upheld the ministry’s claim, and the websites were blocked in Azerbaijan.
The Baku Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the first instance. However, in September 2019, the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan overturned the decision of the district court and returned the case to the court of appeal.
The final decision on this case is still pending.
Aynur Elgunesh, editor of one of the blocked websites called Meydan TV, says that the reason for the slowness of the proceedings is the desire of the authorities to prevent the websites from appealing to European courts.
“It has been a year now and we still do not have the final verdict on the criminal case filed against the website, however, they keep us under pressure anyways”, Elgunesh told JAMnews.
Not so long ago, travel restrictions were removed from the employees of this website.
Censored websites in Azerbaijan: what are the consequences?
Aynur Elgunesh noted that within the first few months after the website was blocked, the number of website decreased by half. However, over time, people learned to use VPN programs to bypass blocking.
“Now the situation is a little better. It should also be noted that we are active in social media, and that’s where we convey our materials to readers. However, the fact that people cannot access our website freely is still a big problem for us”, Aynur explained.
Quick, to Twitter! …Oh.
On September 27, 2020, during the heated phase of the Karabakh war, Internet access was restricted throughout Azerbaijan. Some social media platforms have ceased to exist for Azerbaijanis. People quickly realized they had to use a VPN.
Nevertheless, the most important updates from the frontline of the second Karabakh war appeared on Twitter. They were distributed by President Ilham Aliyev himself and his assistant Hikmet Hajiyev, despite the fact that access to Twitter in the country was blocked.
“A country that does not censor the internet”
In his interview with BBC on November 9, 2020, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said that there is no censorship on the Internet in the country.
“The number of Internet users in Azerbaijan exceeds 80%. Can you imagine restricting media in a country where the Internet is free, no censorship exists and 80% of the overall population of Internet users? We have millions of people on Facebook. How can you say that we have no free media? This is a biased approach”, Aliyev said.