opposition leader’s mobile and internet cut off ahead of live interview [last updated August 6]

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[UPDATE] August 6, Baku Court of Appeal rejected to evaluate opposition party leader Ali Karimli and his wife, Samara Seyidova’s complaint against the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of State Security, Special State Security Service, Transportation, Communication and High Technologies Ministry, Azercell mobile operator and AzQtel Internet provider. Having exhausted all domestic remedies, Karimli now intends to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights. Him and his family remain without access to Internet. 

June 23, the Nasimi District court rejected to evaluate Ali Karimli’s complaint. The court returned the appeal on the grounds the claim was not substantiated. “The documents on the termination of the Internet service by – Azercell LLC [mobile provider] and AzQTel LLC [internet provider] – were not attached to the appeal,” wrote the judge. The party leader said he had no expectation that the court would consider his lawsuit in a statement issued later by the Popular Front party. 

Ali Karimli filed a lawsuit against two companies, Azercell and AzQTel and called for the involvement of the Ministry of Transport, Communication and High Technologies as a third party. In a statement issued by Azercell earlier, the company claimed it had nothing to do with the issue and that it does not discriminate against any of its clients based on their political views. 

Meanwhile, AIW was informed by several users, they received an SMS notification that the Internet was blocked by the operator [in this case, Azercell] in the same location, where Karimli lives. 

Regarding home internet connectivity issues, one expert told AIW that most Wifi modems, if supplied by the carrier can be configured remotely, including rejecting devices to connect, null-routing packets [when a network route goes nowhere – meaning that the matching packets are dropped (ignored) rather than forwarded, acting as a kind of very limited firewall], rejecting handshaking [handshake is executed when a client wants to join a protected Wi-Fi network and is used to confirm that both the client and access point possess the correct credentials], and other forms of interference.  

May 13, marks one month since the leader of Popular Front, Ali Karimli, reported internet outage at his apartment in Baku. Since the incident was first reported, Karimli had access to the mobile internet only a handful of times. His network signal is only available until 8pm daily.  In a Facebook post, Karimli wrote on May 3 he explained that the modem he was using at home (Sazz), was taken for inspection by the company on April 17. However, since then, he has not heard back from the company even though he was told, it would take up to three business days to inspect the device. Karimli also said in the post, that all of his communication/messenger applications have been either hacked or being used by a third party. Meanwhile, his mobile operator Azercell told BBC Azerbaijan Service that there is a significant decline in the quality of its services due to heavy traffic observed during the quarantine regime.

April 28, Ali Karimli and his wife, Samara Sayidova took their mobile provider Azercell and internet provider AzQTel to court. 

April 24, in a statement issued by Azercell, the mobile operator claims it was not involved in blocking Karimli’s access to mobile networks or the internet. The company also said they had nothing to do with Karimli’s Whatsapp and Telegram accounts getting hacked. 

April 20, Ali Karimli continues to report disruptions, in the mobile and internet connections at his home in Baku. Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior Ehsan Zahidov told Turan news agency that Karimli should request his mobile, and landline operators and Internet Service Provider to respond to the technical glitches. In an attempt to reach out and have an explanation, neither of the sides, have acknowledged their client having any issues. Having no mobile signal or landline, also means that Karimli cannot leave the house for either himself nor his family can request permission to leave via SMS – a new permission-based system introduced in early April to combat the COVID19 pandemic. The same day, Karimli’s WhatsApp and Telegram accounts are hacked. The party’s management statement holds the mobile company responsible accusing it of having shared the login info with the perpetrators.

On April 13, Ali Karimli, leader of an opposition party Popular Front, was cut off the internet several minutes before a live interview with US-based journalist Sevinc Osmangizi. Despite several attempts to re-connect, Osmangizi was unable to re-establish the connection.

Opposition leader reported both his home internet and mobile network were down. Similarly, his family members were too cut off the internet and lost mobile connections.

At the start of her show that aired on April 13, journalist Osmangizi told her viewers that clearly, the disruption was intentional. Because she had no issues speaking with Karimli an hour ahead of the interview.

The Ministry of Transportation, Communication, and High Technologies is yet to issue a statement or provide an explanation.

Although the network and connection were reportedly back on April 14, it was cut off again a few hours later – once again, ahead of the opposition head attempt to join Osmangizi on her show.

As of April 15, the disruptions continue.

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Alasgar Mammadli, a media law expert, explains that the answer to the question of whether mobile operators in Azerbaijan maintain the confidentiality of their customers is inherently hidden in the recent statement issued by Azercell. 

“In its activities, the company is guided by the Azerbaijan Telecommunications Law and treats all customers equally, without making a difference between them because of their political views. The company pays special attention to the confidentiality of customer data and information about the number used by any subscriber cannot be provided to the third parties, except as provided by law.”

It is clear explains Mammadli, that this is what the statement actually implies: “… guided by the current legislation on telecommunications […] except as provided by law.” Read between the lines, “I provide information during search operations and I am obliged to keep it secret,” explains Mammadli. At the end of the day concludes Mammadli, what is happening to Karimli is illegal and discriminatory.

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