Former political prisoner, Giyas Ibrahimov was sentenced to 30 days in administrative detention on bogus charges of resisting police on June 22. On June 24, new charges were leveled against the activist, accusing Ibrahimov of spreading prohibited information on the Internet (Article 388.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). The former was handed down to the activist after Ibrahimov voiced criticism against the state over its mishandling of popular unrest in one of the villages in western Azerbaijan. The latter is related to the former accusation, punishing Ibrahimov over his social media post.
Ibrahimov is not the first activist to be questioned or held accountable over activity on social media platforms. AIW has documented how over the years activists, rights defenders, and journalists have been called into questioning, detained or sentenced, and asked to remove or apologize over their social media commentary.
The controversial law on Information, Informatisation, and Protection of Information was first adopted in 1998. In March 2017, a series of restrictive amendments were added to the law, converting the law from a technical regulation into a content regulation. In March of 2020, the law was updated yet again. In a previous analysis of the law, AIW together with a legal expert identified some of the key challenges and loopholes in the law, such as:
- In the list of prohibited information envisaged in the Law on Information, Informatisation, and Protection of Information, the definition of what entails prohibited content is described with vague expressions that are open to excessive interpretations. With these terms, the state authorities “enjoy” a broad discretion power to categorize any information as prohibited (Law № 460-IQ);
- Amendments to an existing bill on Information provisions, Informatization, and Protection of Information extended the subjects – to users – of responsibilities for placement of prohibited information, including the “false information” on information-telecommunication networks.This means that amendments establish the liability over the information-telecommunication network users to place prohibited content on the information-telecommunication networks; The amendments also added an item to the list of prohibited content, forbidding the placement of false information: thus, prohibited information was considered “false information [yalan məlumatlar] in case it posed a threat to harm human life and health, cause significant property damage, mass violation of public safety, disrupt life support facilities, financial, transport, communications, industrial, energy and social infrastructure facilities or other socially dangerous consequences.”In other words, if users placed content on the internet that might be considered false information capable to disrupt the functioning of state bodies or their activities it can be considered on the grounds of violating the existing law.
Article 388 of the administrative offenses
During the same plenary meeting in March 2020, an amendment to article 388-1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (CAO) of Law No. 27-VIQD was also approved.
Article 388-1 of the CAO was aggravated with the penalty of up to one-month administrative detention with other sanctions against real or legal person owners of internet information resources and associated domain names as well as on users of information-telecommunication networks for the placement, or the violation of provisions of the Information Law aiming at preventing the placement, of prohibited information on such internet information resources.
With the amendments introduced to laws, users of the information-telecommunication network, owners of internet information resources, and domain names might be punished under Article 388-1 of the CAO. The penalty for the offense is a fine between 500 and 1000 manats (about US$294–$588) for real persons and 1000 to 1500 manats for officials, with an option of up to one month of administrative detention for both classes of persons depending on the circumstances and the identity of the offender.
During the first year of the pandemic, the same administrative offense was used to target scores of political activists.
Recent arrests and detentions
On June 23, journalist Ulvi Hasanli was also invited for questioning over a Facebook post. After being kept for several hours and questioned about the post, Hasanli was asked to remove the post which he declined to do on the grounds there was nothing illegal about the content of the post. He was later released. Earlier the same month, Amrah Tahmazov, a civic activist was sentenced to 30 days in administrative detention. While police claim the activist was arrested over hooliganism and disobeying police, Tahmazov and his friends, believe the arrest was over his social media post in which he criticized President Ilham Aliyev. In March, civic activist, Elvin Mustafayev (known online as Atilla Khan) was sentenced to 25 days in administrative detention on charges of petty hooliganism and disobeying police in Saatli province of Azerbaijan. According to Mustafayev’s friends, the activist was reprimanded for his critical-of-the-authorities comments and posts on Facebook. Since mid-March, residents of Saatli have been protesting water shortage. In February, a member of the opposition Popular Front party was sentenced to 25 days in administrative detention. Police accused the activist of resisting police, while party members claimed the arrest was over the activist’s social media posts in which he often criticized the authorities. This is by no means an exhaustive list as it only includes cases from recent months.