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October 26, 2013 - Comments Off on Joint Statement of Civil Society Delegates to the 2013 Internet Governance Forum

Joint Statement of Civil Society Delegates to the 2013 Internet Governance Forum

October 25, 2013


Freedom House led a delegation of civil society leaders and online activists from around the world to Bali, Indonesia for the 8th Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the UN's flagship conference for discussing global Internet policy. Following the IGF, 17 organizations and individuals signed on to a joint statement to highlight the concerns they raised throughout the Forum, and to offer recommendations to governments, internet companies, and international organizations on how to better protect internet freedoms. This statement was delivered to the Forum during the Open Mic session on the final day by Bouziane Zaid.

We, the undersigned representatives of a group of civil society leaders worldwide who attended and participated in the 2013 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) on October 22-25 in Bali, Indonesia as part of the Freedom House delegation, make this statement at the meeting’s conclusion to highlight a number of opinions we expressed and concerns we raised throughout the Forum.

The 2013 IGF provided a valuable space for the members of our group to engage with other stakeholder groups, through the Forum’s sessions and also through side meetings and consultations with representatives of governments, businesses, the technical community, multilateral bodies, and civil society organizations from all over the world. We urge all stakeholders to continue to engage and participate in future IGFs, to strengthen the Forum’s multistakeholder process, and to uphold the principles of openness, transparency, and inclusiveness. Without the IGF, there is no comparable venue for civil society to directly raise its perspective and concerns with leaders in the government, the private sector, and the technical community.

We share the sentiment with the vast majority of IGF participants that the Internet governance process can and should be improved, but stress the importance of upholding and strengthening the multistakeholder approach to ensure that the internet remains open, global, secure and resilient. In calling for more efforts to promote, protect, and advocate for human rights online, our group has underscored broad principles and recommendations, such as:

1. All laws, policies, regulations, terms of service, user agreements, and other measures to govern the internet must adhere to international standards of human rights, including but not limited to Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression; Article 12, guaranteeing the right to privacy; and Article 20, guaranteeing the right to free association. As an important step, states and other stakeholders must look to Human Rights Council Resolution 20/8 – adopted by consensus in July 2012 – affirming “that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression,” and pledging to explore further “how the Internet can be an important tool for development and for exercising human rights.” This applies to ending illicit online surveillance by any government. To be legitimate and lawful, any surveillance must be limited, targeted, used to deter or investigate criminalized activity, and subject to independent judicial oversight.

2. Consistency across the many spaces for discussion around Internet governance issues – including those spaces clustered around regional, sub-regional, national, linguistic, and other groupings – is crucial to ensure the principles of openness, transparency, and inclusiveness are upheld in all venues. This is not multistakeholderism for multistakeholderism’s sake, but rather recognizing the need to represent all voices, perspectives and interests in setting standards, norms, and policies that affect the internet, both locally and globally. The term multistakeholder is overused and applied to a wide range of events, groups and processes. Various international organizations, as well as national governments, must make it a top priority to replace lipservice to multistakeholderism with genuine efforts to bring all stakeholders to the table on equal footing.

3. Transparency and accountability are crucial next steps in the internet governance discussion, and need to be fully implemented by all stakeholder groups. Businesses are beginning to recognize transparency reports as serving their users and their corporate social responsibilities, as well as their bottom-line interests. Governments likewise should ensure that their policies and practices are fully transparent as a means of preserving their legitimacy, credibility, and moral authority with their own citizens and the international community. In instances of content censorship, surveillance, shutting down or deliberate slowing down of networks, and other methods of internet control, these two stakeholder groups must work independently and together to divulge details about these measures and have them open to public debate. In addition, governments should institute strict controls on the export of surveillance and filtering technologies to regimes that have failed to demonstrate a commitment to upholding human rights, while the private sector should take a close look at some of their own practices in this domain. In some countries, bloggers, activists, and other internet users are subject to beatings, imprisonment, and even murder when they post information critical of the authorities.

We thank the government of Indonesia for its warm hospitality and dedicated efforts in successfully hosting the 8th annual meeting of the Global IGF. Despite the confusion during the summer over whether the event would be held in Bali, we were able to convene our delegation of civil society advocates, activists and academics from more than 18 countries. However, three of our colleagues had to cancel their attendance owing to visa issues. The letter granting certain registered participants permission to obtain visas upon arrival in Indonesia came too late, was rejected by airline officials, and was not extended to participants from all countries. For future IGFs, it would be preferable to announce the visa on arrival special procedure well in advance and officially notify the appropriate channels.

Thank you.


- Freedom House
- The Unwanted Witness, Uganda
- Jorge Luis Sierra, México
- Damir Gainutdinov, Russian Federation, AGORA Association
- Nighat Dad, Pakistan, Digital Rights Foundation
- Artem Goriainov, Kyrgyzstan, Public Foundation “Civil Initiative on Internet Policy”
- Giang Dang, Vietnam
- Fatima Cambronero, Argentina, AGEIA DENSI Argentina
- Michelle Fong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong In-Media
- Dalia Haj-Omar, Sudan, GIRIFNA
- Bouziane Zaid, Morocco
- Syahredzan Johan, Malaysia
- Juned Sonido, Philippines
- Myanmar ICT for Development Organization (MIDO)
- Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM)
- Mahmood Enayat, United Kingdom, Small Media
- Abeer Alnajjar, Jordan
- Arzu Geybullayeva, Azerbaijan

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