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November 22, 2012 - Comments Off on Azerbaijan after the Internet Governance Forum, and before Elections

Azerbaijan after the Internet Governance Forum, and before Elections

At least eight journalists and three human rights defenders are serving their terms in the prisons of Azerbaijan, according to a recent Human Rights Watch briefing. That should tell you a lot about the country’s crucially limited freedom of expression.

This year Azerbaijan hosted the annual UN–sponsored Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which brings together governments, civil society, and others to discuss public policy issues related to the internet. The theme for 2012 was the role of internet governance in promoting development.

As a panelist in a couple of sessions during the event, I had a great opportunity to engage with the audience and with highly active human rights defenders. My panel, “Freedom of Expression Online: Key Challenges and Best Practices,” assembled stakeholders from academia, civil society, and governments to discern the most serious obstacles to freedom of expression (FoE) globally, and also to review the best practices that have emerged from legislative and activist engagement over the past year—and as outlined in Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net report.

Bloggers, activists, civil society, businesses, governments, and policymakers from around the globe were invited to the forum, creating conditions for exuberant discussion. But the most striking feature of this event was the host country’s severe hostility to freedom of expression on the internet. Azerbaijan is a signatory to many international human rights treaties, but instead of respecting and protecting those rights, the government uses the laws to silence and repress dissent. This hypocrisy came into stark relief when President Ilham Aliyev chose to visit the Bakutel Telecommunication Exhibition—which was being held at the same venue—and be photographed with glossy satellites and machines, totally ignoring the IGF event and sending a clear anti-FoE message.

The country’s political powers were quite blunt even during this high-level event: EU officers’ machines were hacked inside their hotel rooms after European Commission vice president Neelie Kroes adopted a tough stance against the Azerbaijani government’s FoE policies. In addition, speeches were disturbed by audio and other logistical problems, and we often felt as though these were not so much managerial issues as an effort to intimidate the attendees and distract their thoughts from more critical matters. One of the most disturbing violations of free speech occurred when UN officials warned local groups and Freedom House against distributing reportsabout the freedom of expression situation in Azerbaijan both on and offline, because they constituted an “attack” on the host government.

A local nongovernmental organization called the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) produced an in-depth report highlighting its concerns for freedom of expression and violations of that right in Azerbaijan. One of the most significant violations has been violent attacks against journalists and media workers, and impunity for the attackers. In 2005, Elmar Huseynov, a symbol of courage for investigative journalists in Azerbaijan, was gunned down after receiving a number of death threats. In 2008, journalist Agil Khalil was assaulted multiple times after he attempted to report on alleged land-grabbing schemes in Baku. He was then permitted to leave Azerbaijan for his own safety, and instead of investigating his attackers, authorities pinned the crime on a man claiming to be Khalil’s homosexual lover. In 2011, journalist Ramin Deko was abducted and questioned about his online activities and his criticism of the president. After he disclosed this to the media, he was attacked again and severely beaten “as a reprisal.”

There have been more than 200 attacks on journalists since Huseynov’s murder, and the authorities never could figure out who was responsible, though they did not try very hard.

    A protester is arrested by local police in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Photo Credit | Mehman Huseynov

Another critical issue is the way the Azerbaijani government curtails freedom of expression through different restrictive laws. Defamation is a criminal offense and is used to constrain independent and opposition papers. Lawsuits are frequently filed against highly critical newspapers like AzadliqYeni Musavat, and Khural by members of parliament and government officials, and the cases have dire consequences for the outlets’ finances. Charges of hooliganism, drug possession, inciting hatred, and supporting terrorism are also used against outspoken journalists and activists to make them examples for others.

This year, Azerbaijan hosted two major international events: the Eurovision song contest and the seventh annual IGF. In the wake of international access to the country, authorities have already started detaining and persecuting critical individuals. Nine journalists, including Nijat Aliyev (editor-in-chief of and Faramaz Novruzoglu (a freelance journalist who was accused of mass disorder after he used social media to criticize the government and call for protests), are currently in detention or in prison.

Khadija Ismayilova, a journalist with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty who actively participated in the IGF, was targeted with a sex video of her that was filmed secretly and posted on the internet. She is a very well-known and outspoken journalist who has in the past exposed official corruption.

With the increase in internet use globally and locally, technological advancement has made it easier for people to voice their opinions in cyberspace, and that is where the government has also started taking measures—such as content blocking and data filtering—to restrict access to information.

This becomes even more serious when authorities target individuals who voice critical opinions on the internet. Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade served 17 months in prison on charges of hooliganism after they posted a satirical video on YouTube that criticized the government for importing donkeys from Germany. I interviewed Emin during the IGF. He rejected the president’s mantra that the internet is free in Azerbaijan. He said that, yes, we can go on the internet and use whatever we want; yes, we are free up to that point. But when we criticize the president or the government, our freedom ends there.

At present, five bloggers and activists remain in detention in connection with the expression of opinions online. As the presidential election is only a year away, opposition, antigovernment, and other critical online spaces are being censored and blocked. Statements by top government officials also suggest that new legal mechanisms for internet control might be forthcoming, which is worrisome given the fact that the print and broadcast media have already been hit hard by this autocratic government.

As we move on from discussing what happened at the IGF, we shouldn’t leave the dissidents of the host country alone in these dreadfully autocratic conditions. International media, communities, and organizations should force the government to comply with international human rights treaties and respect the basic rights of its own citizens.


Originally published at Freedom House

November 15, 2012 - Comments Off on Seeking a More Free Internet through Multi-­Stakeholder Dialogue

Seeking a More Free Internet through Multi-­Stakeholder Dialogue

Download a copy of the joint statement

Joint Statement of Civil Society Delegates to the 2012 Internet Governance Forum

We, the undersigned representatives of civil society who attended and participated in the 2012 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) on 6-9 November 2012 in Baku, Azerbaijan, make this statement upon the conclusion of the meeting to highlight the opinions we expressed and concerns we raised throughout the Forum. We engaged in this meeting with the objective of advocating for internet freedoms, including the rights to freedom of expression and opinion, and the rights to seek, receive, and impart information, as protected by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Our participation at the IGF was enabled by the unique multi-stakeholder model of the IGF, which gives civil society an equal voice alongside the government, business, and the technical communities. We believe this model creates more robust dialogue and more meaningful debate on the many issues involved in internet governance, including internet freedom, and we strongly support the continuation of the IGF and reject any proposals that would exclude civil society from its currently active role in determining the future of the internet.

In recent months and years, documents such as Freedom on the Net, published by Freedom House, and the 2011 report on internet freedom published by Frank LaRue, United Nations Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, have documented growing threats to internet freedom around the world.  In 2012, UN Human Rights Council Resolution L13 affirmed that all human rights should apply online just as they apply offline, and other internet freedoms were asserted in the 2011 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and the Internet, signed by representatives of the Organization for American States (OAS), the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

We also note that next month, in Dubai, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will hold a major meeting that could fundamentally alter the structure and global reach of the internet. At the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), which is open only to member states, their delegations, and some corporations able to pay for access, governments have put forward proposals that could expand the authority of the ITU over the internet in ways that would threaten internet openness and innovation, increase the costs of access and connection, and erode human rights.

Motivated by these concerns, we make the following recommendations to the Internet Governance Forum and the stakeholders represented in Baku this year:

To Governments

  • We call upon all governments to work toward universal access to the internet, regardless of barriers related to ethnicity, religion, race, gender, disability, sexual orientation or language.
  • We call upon governments not to block websites in any but the most limited and exceptional cases, and only when provided by a just law, pursuant to the purposes laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and implemented according to due process by an independent judicial body in the least restrictive way required to achieve the purported aim. Further, we call upon governments to respect the right of their citizens to appeal in a just court of law the blocking or censorship of websites.
  • We implore governments never hold intermediaries liable for content they host or transmit.
  • We urge governments not to systematically collect private data on citizens, and to ensure that any surveillance conducted to pursue criminal elements should be limited, exceptional, and subject to the approval of an independent judiciary.
  • We call upon all states to investigate and work to prevent physical and online attacks against citizens who express their opinions online, and to hold the responsible parties to account.
  • We urge all states to ensure that individuals can speak anonymously on the internet.
  • We implore all governments to control the export of technologies that could be used to monitor or surveil, and to restrict the export of those technologies to regimes that have failed to demonstrate a commitment to upholding human rights.
  • We strongly urge all governments to cease campaigns designed to deliberately misinform citizens or discredit and dilute independent voices.
  • We encourage all governments to include civil society in their delegations to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in December, 2012.

To Internet Companies

  • We urge ICT companies to join the Global Network Initiative, and abide by its code of conduct.
  • We call upon internet intermediaries not to limit rights to free expression and access to information except after legitimate judicial intervention, and to publicize all government requests to remove content or block services.   We urge all ICT companies with access to the personal information of users to fully respect the privacy of those individuals, retaining as little of that information as possible and preventing the exposure of that data to third parties.

To International & Multilateral Bodies

  • We call upon international and multi-lateral institutions to adopt internet freedom as a core value, and to speak out publicly against violations of human rights online.

To the International Telecommunications Union & Member States

  • We call upon all those represented at WCIT in December, 2012 to reject any proposals that might expand ITU authority in ways that would threaten the continued growth and global nature of the internet or restrict the exercise of human rights online.


  • Freedom House
  • 'Gbenga Sesan, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria
  • Thai Netizen Network
  • Kamal Sedra, DISC Development
  • Mahmood Enayat, Small Media
  • Asociacion por los Derechos Civiles, Argentina
  • Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan
  • Alaksiej Carniajeu, Belarus IT Aid
  • Siarhei Mackievic, Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs of Belarus
  • Anas Helali, Syrian IT specialist
  • Arzu Geybullayeva, Azerbaijani blogger
  • Myanmar ICT for Development Organization
  • i freedom Uganda
  • Community Empowerment for Progress Organization - CEPO, South Sudan
  • Egyptian Democratic Academy
  • Common Europe Foundation
  • Dr. Katy Pearce, Assistant Professor of Communication, University of Washington

November 11, 2012 - Comments Off on A Short Interview with Emin Milli, an Azeri Blogger & Activist

A Short Interview with Emin Milli, an Azeri Blogger & Activist

Emin Milli, an Azerbaijani blogger and youth activist, spoke to Nighat Dad at 7th Internet Governance Forum in Baku. Emin Milli and his fellow activist were arrested in 2009 over a video which mocked government’s reported decision to import donkeys at ridiculous prices

Emin also wrote an open letter to President of Azerbaijan ahead of IGF while citing that the internet is not free in Azerbaijan.

“People in Azerbaijan live in fear. We fear for our lives, we fear for our jobs, we fear for the lives and jobs of our fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, we fear for our friends. We fear every time when someone close to us dares to disagree with you. We also pay a high price when we dare not to fear”

Here is the link to the video:

November 10, 2012 - Comments Off on Women of Azerbaijan on Internet: an Interview with Arzu Geybullayeva

Women of Azerbaijan on Internet: an Interview with Arzu Geybullayeva

Nighat Dad spoke to Arzu Geybullayeva - a regional analyst and blogger from Azerbaijan - during Internet Governance Forum 2012 at Baku. Arzu here shares the key regional issues faced by women in the country and discusses how people harass women rights defenders online.