how websites are blocked in Azerbaijan

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On 10 March 2017, a bill of amendments to the laws on “Information, Informatisation and Protection of Information” and “Telecommunications” was put up for discussion at a plenary meeting of Milli Meclis (Parliament) and was unanimously adopted.

Here is a breakdown of what these new amendments mean:

New Article 13-1 of the law “on telecommunication” requires registration of internet operators and providers in Azerbaijan with the Ministry of Transportation, Communication and High Technologies (MTCHT). Providers and operators must register within 15 days since the start of provision of services, and must inform MTCHT about any changes to the registered information within 10 days after change takes place.

Rules for registration are to be established by the MTCHT, and operators and providers will have 2 months to apply for registration.

Providers and operators are not responsible for the content of messages transmitted over telecommunications networks unless otherwise provided for by law.

Law on information establishes personal responsibility for “owners” (defined as “persons that have ownership or usage rights to an internet information resource, freely determining usage of and rules for placement of information on such resource”) of internet information resources (hereinafter ‘IIR’) with regard to the content of such resources. If the owner of an IIR or a domain name is a legal entity, the website should provide “in a readable format and place its name, organizational-legal form, email address” and if the owner is an individual, then “first name, last name, father’s name, and email address”.

Owners of IIR or domain names must not allow distribution on the IIR of the following information:

  • propaganda and financing of terrorism, as well as methods and means of terrorism, information about training for the purpose of terrorism, as well as open calls for terrorism;
  • information on the propaganda of violence and religious extremism, open calls directed to the evocation of national, racial or religious enmity, violent change of the constitutional order, territorial disintegration, violent seizure or maintenance of power, organization of mass riots;
  • state secrets;
  • instructions or methods for producing firearms, their component parts, ammunition, and explosive substances;
  • information on preparation and usage of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances, and their precursors, about locations of their unlawful acquisition, as well as information on the location of and methods of cultivation of plants containing narcotic substances;
  • pornography, including information related to child pornography;
  • information on the organisation of and incitement to gambling and other unlawful betting games;
  • information disseminated with a purpose to promote suicide as a method of solving problems justifies suicide, provides the basis for or incites to suicide, describes the methods of committing suicide, and organizes commission of suicide by several individuals or organized group;
  • defamatory and insulting information, as well as information breaching inviolability of private life;
  • information breaching intellectual property rights;
  • other information prohibited by the laws of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

If the owner of IIR or of its domain name discovers such information or receives an appeal that such information is provided on the IIR, she or he must ensure that such information is removed from the resource. Furthermore if a host provider is in such a situation, it must take measures to ensure the removal of such information by the owner.


MTCHT can issue a written warning to the owner of IIR, owner of its domain name, and to the hosting provider. If the information is not removed within 8 hours after such a written warning, MTCHT can appeal to a court to restrict access to the IIR. If there is an “urgent situation of danger to the interests of the state and society protected by law or real threat to life and health of individuals”, access to the IIR can be restricted by a decision of MTCHT.


If MTCHT takes such a decision, it at the same time must apply to a court, and the access restriction remains in force until a court decision is made. A court must consider MTCHT appeal and make a decision within 5 days, while an appeal of such a decision does not postpone its execution.


The law provides for the establishment of a “List of Information Resources that contain information prohibited for distribution”. Information resources are placed on that list by MTCHT if there is a decision by MTCHT or a court about restricting access to an IIR. Rules concerning the contents of this list, its composition, supervision of its enforcement, and arranging for reciprocal contacts between host and internet providers are to be determined by the MTCHT.


MTCHT can add an IIR to this list based on an individual request if the IIR owner does not ensure the removal of prohibited information, and there is a court decision prohibiting the distribution of such information. Once an IIR is listed, internet and host providers must immediately restrict access to it, and notify the owner of the IIR in this regard. The law provides that IIR owners, domain name owners, host providers and internet providers may be held responsible for violations of these provisions.


While the MTCHT has been swift with putting its new powers into practice by blocking scores of independent, opposition websites, it has so far, failed to create a repository of websites it has blocked.

Together with OONI, AIW has prepared a list of websites to test in Azerbaijan. According to preliminary tests concluded in January, here is what we managed to identify so far:

and

The preliminary analysis indicates that the blocking is happening either by blocking the IPs for the target hosts or blocking is happening by means of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI).

This means that the ISP will inspect the traffic flows and either:

a. Drop packets that are towards a destination that is part of the filtered list (IP/Port blocking) or if it sees certain fields in the packets which match it’s blocking rule (ex. SNI filter). These are measurements which present the http_failure value of generic_timeout_error or connection_timeout
b. Inject a TCP RST packet to terminate the connection based on the same rules mentioned above. These are measurements that present the http_failure value of connection_reset

AIW and OONI will continue monitoring blocked websites in Azerbaijan to provide a more comprehensive analysis. For now, you can also help us test. A more detailed post about testing is available here.

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