Azerbaijan temporarily suspends access to TikTok [updated]

On September 19, following reports that access to social media platform TikTok was unavailable, the Cyber Security Service under the  Ministry of Transport, Communication and Information Technologies confirmed to BBC Azerbaijan service, that TikTok was suspended as a result of an “anti-terrorist operation” in Karabakh. 

Previously authorities blocked access to the platform in September 2022. Then, the State Security Service said the measure was necessary in order to contain disinformation during the military offensive on the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia on September 14, 2022. 

Access to the Google Play store and Apple Appstore was also reportedly blocked.

Separately, at least two anti-war activists, Amrah Tahmazov and Javid Amhadov were called in for questioning by the State Security Service, over their social media posts reported OC Media.

Meanwhile, the State Agency for Media Development warned journalists and media platforms to refrain from sharing unverified information about the start of what the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense referred to as “local anti-terrorist measures,” which Azerbaijan launched on September 19.

The measures were taken following a mine explosion that killed 14 Azerbaijani citizens.

The last time the country imposed country-wide internet throttling, was in 2020 during the 44-day war.

In a separate appeal, the General Prosecutor’s Office issued a statement describing the rules of reporting on anti-terrorism operations:

“According to the Law of the Republic of Azerbaijan “On Combating Terrorism”, information about terrorist acts is provided to the public in the form and volume determined by the head of the operational headquarters or the representative responsible for public relations of the operational headquarters.

The following information is prohibited from distribution:

  • the tactics and technical methods of conducting anti-terrorist operations; 
  • the information that endangers the life and health of people in the zone of anti-terrorist operations or outside the limits of this zone and hinders the conduct of anti-terrorist operations;
  • information that justifies terrorism or serves to promote it;
  • information about the persons participating in the anti-terrorist operations, as well as those who help in carrying out these operations.

Placing prohibited information on the Internet is considered an administrative offense (Article 388-1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses) and anyone sharing this information is subject to an administrative fine ranging from 500AZN to 2000AZN as well as an administrative arrest for up to 1 month.”

Court in Baku blocks access to an online TV channel

On September 13, the court in Baku ruled in favor of blocking access to the YouTube channel of an online news site “Hürriyyət” [Hurriyyet]. The decision was based on the request from the General Prosecutor’s Office. 

The court in its ruling said the news site violated the law on Information, informatization, and protection of information, by publishing prohibited information. Specifically, the court referred to a guest on the show, Elnur Mammadov, who is a reserve colonel and who allegedly shared untrue information about the leaders of the Azerbaijan Army and the Ministry of Defense, thus damaging their reputation. 

Earlier, on July 24, the General Prosecutor’s Office requested the arrest of the editor-in-chief of the news site Vugar Mammadov and Elnur Mammadov. Both were sentenced to 30 days in administrative detention for spreading prohibited information online. 

Mammadov in his interview discussed cases of corruption and nepotism within the Ministry of Defense as well as raised allegations against the Minister of Defense Zakir Hasanov. 

Authorities arrest blogger despite lack of evidence

Blogger Jamil Mammadli is facing multiple charges including fraud, hooliganism, and extortion, and has been placed in administrative detention pending investigation according to reports by local media.

The allegations leveled against the blogger claim that Mammadli allegedly influenced the participants of the trial and spread insulting posts about them on social networks. 

As such, according to the blogger’s lawyer, Fariz Namazli, the State Prosecutor and the plaintiffs claim Mammadli, allegedly obstructed the “legality” of the trial. Yet, the blogger’s defense, after reviewing Mammadli’s social media posts, has come to the conclusion that the blogger’s posts were not relevant to the trial. Moreover, the State Prosecutor failed to provide any substantial evidence proving that the blogger was involved in any kind of influence over the participants of the trial. 

Lawyer Namazli views the case as an attempt to restrict the blogger’s freedom of expression. 

journalist removes social media posts under duress

A confession from journalist Elmaddin Shamilzadeh about the forced removal of social media posts under duress is a testament to persistent violence and intimidation used in Azerbaijan against civic groups. According to the reporting by Voice of America, Shamilzadeh was severely beaten by law enforcement during his detention last month. After the journalist agreed to remove all his social media posts on Facebook where he was critical of the police violence he was finally let go.

Shamilzadeh was filming protests in the village of Soyudlu. He was also able to take photographs of several police officers who used disproportionate force against village residents which were then published by Mikroskop Media.

Once the photographs were out, the journalist received a call from the state service for mobilization and conscription. The same day, he was taken from the courtyard of his home by two plain-clothed men. When the journalist tried using his phone, the two men grabbed his phone and taken to a local police station.

At the station police demanded Shamilzadeh to share the phone password which he refused to do. “When I said that I would not give them my password, one of the policemen punched me in the face,” the journalist recalled in an interview with Voice of America Azerbaijan Service. The beating continued despite the journalist’s requests to stop. “When I told them not to hit me in the face, they started cursing. From the blows, I fell to the floor.” The journalist was beaten by at least three officers. The violence was recorded by another officer in the room.

The physical violence forced the journalist to agree to remove all of the posts on Facebook about the police involved in the protest. Shamilzadeh used the opportunity when handed the phone back and posted “Torture” on his profile. Now, his friends and colleagues knew he was missing. According to the journalist, this also prevented the police from using further violence against him.

Instead of force, finally, the police started talking to the journalist. “They said that I can delete my posts myself. Then they will let me go. I thought it might be true, I picked up the phone and deleted the post with the word ‘torture’ and other posts about the police.”

But it did not stop there. After keeping the journalist for about an hour in some dark room, they brought him back to the officer of the operative who then threatened Shamilzadeh with rape.

The journalist caved and gave away his phone password. “When I handed over my phone the battery was almost fully charged, after two hours, when they finally returned my phone, the device was almost out of power. I don’t know what they did with my phone during those two hours,” said the journalist.

Shamilzadeh was also forced to sign a letter of confession where he apologized for his actions and vowed not to repeat the same mistakes. He was released afterward.

activist taken from his home after a social media post

Activist Latif Mammadov was reportedly taken from his home, after posting on social media a critical post, about President Ilham Aliyev’s comments on recent protests in the village of Soyudlu

Mammadov is the third civic activist to be detained/questioned by law enforcement over online commentary about the village protests. 

On June 22, political activist and former political prisoner Giyas Ibrahimov was arrested and sentenced to 30 days in administrative detention on bogus charges of resisting police. 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.  

On June 21, police arrested another activist and board member of the opposition NIDA Youth Movement, Elmir Abbasov. He was sentenced to 20 days in administrative detention for disobeying police. The movement said, the charges leveled against Abbasov were bogus, and the real reason behind the activist’s arrest was his Facebook post about the protests and the state’s violent response to the residents of the village. Abbasov was released on July 11. 

In recent years, scores of activists, rights defenders, and journalists have been called into questioning, detained or sentenced, or held accountable over activity on social media platforms. 

administrative detention handed over social media posts

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. 

Previous reports:

journalists were fined over the published article;

two website editors and three social media users were questioned over “disseminating forbidden information on the internet”;

questioning over social media posts critical of government measures raises concern;

police briefly detains a member of an opposition party over social media posts;

police arrests opposition activist over critical social media posts;

another activist sentenced over social media post

Amrah Tahmazov, a civic activist was sentenced to 30 days in administrative detention. While police claims 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 the President Ilham Aliyev. 

According to reporting by Meydan TV, Tahmazov was detained on May 27. After being held at the police station for two days, the activist was taken to court, where he received the 30 day administrative detention sentence. 

The social media post

On May 16, Tahmazov, posted on his Facebook profile, about jailed political activist Alizamin Salayev. Salayev was on a hunger strike for more than 100 days over his unlawful arrest. Highlighting his case, Tahmazov wrote on Facebook, calling on President Aliyev to release Salayev, “you have made this nation sick, you have made everyone sick. Get your hands off the man. Let us live.”

Three days after Tahmazov posted the status, police showed up at his address. The activist’s parents told the police he was not home. Writing about this Tahmazov said, “I don’t like to exaggerate but if they come after me, know that its because of the previous post [about Salayev].”

The arrest

The indictment against Tahmazov claims the activist was arrested by the police after he was heard cursing on the street in downtown Baku, accusations the activist denies. According to Meydan TV’s reporting, during the appellate court hearing on June 10, the court ruled to keep the activist behind bars. 

Tahmazov’s lawyer, Zibeyde Sadigova told Meydan TV they intend to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

The charges of hooliganism and disobeying police are often used against civic and political activist in Azerbaijan.  

the trickery behind blocking news websites in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan started blocking access to independent news websites in 2017 [more on how this blocking has taken place here]. At the time, the state argued the reasons for blocking these websites were, calls aimed at “forcible change of the constitutional order,” “organization of mass riots,” and other illegal activities. In reality, these websites were considered independent and/or platforms affiliated with opposition parties. As a result, the decision to block them was based on legal claims that lacked evidence. This was further reflected in the review process when the decision to block these platforms was implemented. According to EHRAC, “no effective and independent review took place in the first instance decision to block access to the websites in 2017, and in subsequent appeals. The courts simply accepted the authorities’ allegations at face value and made no attempt to adequately consider or explain why the content was unlawful.”

The intentions behind the blocking decision were further reflected in subsequent actions taken by the Government of Azerbaijan against the online platforms. Such that, at the time of the first decision to block these websites for access in 2017, the Azerbaijani Government claimed these websites continued disseminating their content through VPN services or social media platforms and therefore the action taken against them did not cause significant changes to the published content. However, in February 2020, the Ministry of Transportation, Communications and High Technologies “requested the domestic courts to impose a ban on the applicants’ ability to share their content through VPN services and social media platforms.”

In a report published in February 2023, in partnership with OONI, we identified the blocking not only continued but expanded to blocking news websites from other countries as well as social media platforms [OONI measurements collected from Azerbaijan between January 2022 to February 2023]: 

  • Blocking of news media websites. Azerbaijan continues to block access to several independent news media websites. OONI data also suggests that some ISPs in Azerbaijan may have started blocking access to the Guardian on 25th December 2022.
  • Azerbaijan and Russia block each other’s news media. In early June 2022, Azerbaijan started blocking access to Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti media website. Since (at least) 7th June 2022, Russian ISPs have been blocking access to Azerbaijani news media websites (``, ``, ``, ``, ``). These blocks remain ongoing.
  • Temporary blocking of TikTok amid border clashes with Armenia. During the September 2022 border clashes, both Azerbaijan and Armenia blocked access to TikTok. While the TikTok block was lifted in Armenia by 21st September 2022 (only lasting about a week), the TikTok block remained in place in Azerbaijan until November 2022 (lasting about 2 months). 
  • Blocking of circumvention tool sites. Azerbaijan continues to block access to numerous circumvention tool websites, potentially limiting the ability to circumvent internet censorship in Azerbaijan. However, most OONI measurements suggest that tested circumvention tools (Tor and Psiphon) appear to be reachable.
  • Variance of censorship across networks. While most ISPs in Azerbaijan appear to adopt similar censorship techniques (as we continued to observe connection timeouts in most anomalous measurements across ASNs), different ISPs block access to different websites over time.

The intentional blocking and total control in the hands of the state in implementing these blocks were once again highlighted in June 2023 when co-rapporteurs from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Jan Liddel-Granger and Liz Kristoffersen visited Azerbaijan. According to reporting by Meydan TV, throughout the visit of the co-rapporteurs access to blocked websites was restored. 

In the past, a similar temporary lifting of restrictions was observed in Azerbaijan during visits of international organizations. 

In Azerbaijan an online television channel temporarily suspends its work

An online television channel – Red Line Channel, temporarily suspended its work on May 5. According to the founder of the channel, Samira Gasimli, while the channel took a pause on its work a few months back, as the team was considering restructuring the format of its programs, the work of the team was put on a pause, when the team learned they were being moved from the office where it was located.

In an interview with Meydan TV, Gasimli said the timing of the eviction was surprising. According to Gasimli, the channel was planning to start daily live broadcasts as of May 1. This is when the team received the call from the landlord, who informed them they must vacate the office space as of May 1. 

Previously the team was evicted from a studio.

Gasimli told Meydan TV, the team was not looking for a new office given it was futile. Instead, they were trying to find another way.  

In March, AIW reported on a targeted digital attack against the channel’s social media accounts. 

activist sentenced to 25 days in administrative detention over social media posts

On March 18, 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.

Mustafayev lives in Saatli himself and he wrote about the protest and police violence he witnessed. Shortly after he was called in for questioning and arrested on the spot on bogus allegations. According to reports, riot police used rubber bullets and tear gas against local residents who took the streets to voice their grievances.

Local opposition parties recognized Mustafayev’s detention as politically motivated