Azerbaijan’s Media Registry leaves media platforms in limbo

In Azerbaijan according to the new law on media that was adopted in January 2022 and approved by the President in February 2022, all online media outlets as well as journalists working for online media platforms or working as freelance journalists were ought to register with a new media registry system. This media registry system began to operate on October 14, 2022, according to reporting by Turan News Agency. The law itself was heavily criticized by the local civil society prior to its adoption, and many anticipated many of its restrictive features put in practice. AIW published this overview of the law in March 2022 describing some of its most problematic features including the media registry clause.   

According to the new law, Azerbaijan must establish a registry system of online media outlets and journalists working for online media platforms or working as freelance journalists. This and other additional provisions of the law raise a number of questions regarding the compliance of the law with the international standards on media freedom.

Article 62.1 reads that permission from state bodies is not required for setting up online media. But Article 62.2 requires that an online media entity must apply to the relevant executive authority (Media Registry) 7 days prior to the publication or dissemination of the relevant media material.  In other words, while there is no need to apply for creating an online media platform, there is a requirement to apply for a permit once the online resource becomes operational and starts publishing. Article 62.4 requires an additional opinion issued by the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations before an online media focusing on religion and religious content is set up. In addition, Article 78.3 obligates online media to apply to the Media Registry within 6 months since the platforms become operational.

Article 60.5 requires online media to publish at least 20 articles per day to qualify as an online media platform.

Article 26 obligates the founder of the online media to be a citizen of the Azerbaijan Republic permanently residing in the Azerbaijan Republic. In case the founder is a legal entity, then the highest share (75 percent) in the authorized capital must belong to a citizen (citizens) of Azerbaijan permanently residing in the country.

The Cabinet of Ministers has been instructed to prepare regulation on the provision of registration at the Media Registry within 3 months as per presidential order “on the application of the Law of the Republic of Azerbaijan ‘On Media’ and regulation of a number of issues arising from it” dated February 8, 2022. And Article 60 of the new law requires that online media outlets disclose their organizational information on their respective websites. Article 60.2 also requires online media to register with the tax authorities, and identify and appoint a person responsible for editorial.

Article 26.3 prohibits previously convicted individuals from setting up media platforms. The list of previous convictions is exhaustive including serious or especially serious crimes; crimes against public morality; persons whose convictions have not been expunged or revoked; including political parties (excluding print media); and religious organizations (excluding print media). Prohibiting religious and political organizations from establishing online media is a failure to comply with the international standards on the right to freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.

Importance of registering with the Media Registry for online media platforms

The Media Register is an electronic information resource managed by a Media Development Agency which is managed by the Supervisory Board consisting of the Chairman and 6 (six) members appointed by the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. In order to be registered at the Media Registry as a media entity (subject), a media entity can apply either as a legal entity or as a sole entrepreneur (Article 74).

Article 74.2 sets out a list of requirements journalists must comply with for their inclusion in the registry. These requirements include a degree in higher education as well as another number of different merit-based criteria. Article 74.2.5 requires that journalists obtain and provide an employment contract with a media entity. Individuals or freelance journalists must have a civil contract with at least one media entity registered at the Media Registry in order to be able to register at the media registry.

Those outlets who succeed at registering with the Media Register are issued certificates (which grant access to government events, press conferences and etc.), and journalists are issued press cards (valid for three years and subject to renewal upon request). Media entities, including online media outlets not included in this registry, will not be considered mass media, and subsequently, unable to hire journalists. Also, in case the online media platform is not registered by the registry, journalists who have contracts with these online media platforms, won’t be admitted to the Media Registry and won’t be issued press cards.

Registration with the Media Register is one of the main guarantees for the free operation of media outlets and journalists. For example, according to Article 72.6 of the Law, only media entities and journalists included in the Media Register may carry on with their work during military and/or state of emergency situations, in special operations against religious extremism, and in operations against terrorism.

In the absence of certificates issued exclusively by the register, journalists may also not be allowed to conduct polls on the streets.

These and other requirements as outlined in the law, create additional challenges for freelance journalists working (on contracts) with international media outlets or local online media outlets not registered with the Media Register.

Now, according to Turan News Agency, at least 15 online news platforms have been denied registry. Among them is 24saat.org – a news website that remains blocked in Azerbaijan according to AIW/OONI measurement reports. To bypass censorship, the founders of the website, created a new URL az24saat.org which according to the website’s director Vugar Gurjanly is still accessible. However, in an interview with Turan News Agency, Gurjanly lamented the registration process and getting it denied. Gurjanli believes the decision was not justified and aimed at eventually stopping the news site from working. “Our website meets all the necessary criteria,” Gurjanly told Turan News Agency. According to Article 78.3 of the new Media Law, active mass media must apply to the Agency within six months from the day the Registry starts working. In the event media fails to do so, or the information provided during the registration process is found incorrect the agency has a right to take the media to court. 

Speaking to Azadliq Radio, Azerbaijan Service for Radio Liberty, media law expert, Khalid Aghaliyev said, the currently applied regulations on media platforms trying to register with the Agency are unconstitutional because according to the law, the registration regulations of the new law should apply to the media platforms established after the said law was adopted. “The media that existed prior to the adoption of the law should be registered automatically,” said Aghalyev. 

But this is not the only problem concerning media platforms. The law also demands that the media platform must publish at least 100 news items per week. But the agency already showing a biased approach to this specific regulation. According to Aghaliyev, a number of news sites that were registered have failed to meet the criteria, and yet those that have met the 100 items per week criteria have been denied registry. 

Articles 74.1.2 and 60.5 of the Law, define the criteria of published content as well as what the Media Agency means when it demands a continuity of activities. As such, media platforms applying for registration must demonstrate continuity in their work for at least 20 days a month and publish a minimum of 20 news items per day for their activity to be considered “continuous.” 

Those who have been denied the registry are now planning to appeal in local courts. According to information provided by the Media Agency, it has so far registered 100 media platforms, denied 15, and is reviewing 40 applications.

OONI Measurements Report September 2022

This new OONI report provides an update based on the analysis of OONI measurements collected from Azerbaijan between May 2022 to September 2022. Access to the full report is available here

Key findings 

Blocked websites – measures show that at least 7 news media websites previously reported as blocked, remain inaccessible in the country. Among them are Radio Liberty, Azerbaijan Service for Radio Liberty, Meydan TV, and others. In addition, the measurements indicated that the authorities continue to block access to the Russian state-owned RIA-Novosti news site. This access block rolled out in June of this year. On June 4, the Ministry of Digital Development and Transport said in a statement the decision to block the Russian news website was a result of the news site running a story that was of defamatory nature against Azerbaijan. Specifically, the statement was referring to an interview published by RIA Novosti with Artak Beglaryan, the Minister of State of the disputed territory of Karabakh. In response, Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry accused Russia of “spreading slanderous information against the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and promoting separatism” and violating “the 1997 Agreement on Friendship, Security, and Strategic Partnership between Azerbaijan and Russia, as well as the 2022 Declaration on Allied Cooperation, which requires both countries ‘to refrain from any activity directed against the principles of the UN Charter and each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,’ as well as ‘counter the threats of separatism.” On June 10, local media said RIA-Novosti removed the interview however, the site remained blocked in Azerbaijan. 

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both Russia and Azerbaijan have blocked or discussed blocking each other’s news sites. The most recent OONI measurements show that the Russian internet regulator– Roskomnadzor blocked access to at least five Azerbaijani media domains from within the country. 

Blocking of circumvention tool websites remained. TunneBear, Psiphon, Torproject were among circumvention tool websites that indicated signs of blocking. It is worth noting that not all networks were blocking these sites. And while the Psiphon and Tor Project websites might be blocked in Azerbaijan, their tools appear to work in the country (at least on tested networks).

Azerbaijan temporarily blocked access to the social media platform TikTok – the block remains in place according to the most recent measurement.  

Stay tuned for the next quarterly report on measuring internet censorship in Azerbaijan. 

Facebook user questioned over a Facebook status post

Seymur Aghayev, a student, said police unlawfully took him to a police station where he was held for some two hours on September 27. The men who first asked Aghayev to confirm his identity were ununiformed explained Aghayev following his release. When Aghayev asked the reason for this inquiry his questions remained unanswered. The men put him in a car against his will and took him to the Baku Police Station. 

“I was standing outside a grocery store when two men approached me, asking if I was Seymur. I told them that was my name. They were plainclothed and only later at the police station did I learn that the two men were the officers at Criminal Search department at the Baku City Police Station. They left my questions unanswered as we drove [to the police station],” Aghayev wrote the following day on his Facebook profile.

At the station, Aghayev was told the reason he was brought in was a Facebook status Aghayev shared about police violence against citizens. 

In an interview with Toplum TV, Aghayev said, the status was referring to an old video of police using physical violence against a citizen. At the station, following the questioning (police officers also asked about his family members, their employment history, and any religious affiliation) Aghayev was forced to remove his Facebook status. 

In its response to media inquiries, the Ministry of the Interior said there was nothing unlawful in Aghayev’s visit to the police. “He was questioned upon an invite. This is not unlawful,” said the Ministry’s media spokesperson in an interview with Meydan TV. 

Parliament members in Azerbaijan discuss blocking Sputnik [update June 13]

[Update] On June 10, the editor-in-chief of Sputnik Azerbaijan, Antonava-Tryzno Veranika, had her local residency permit revoked according to reporting by Meydan TV. Olegovna, a citizen of Belarus, lived in Azerbaijan together with her husband, Pavel Antonava. The decision was made by the State Migration Service on June 6. The couple was denied their application for the residency extension and were given ten days to leave Azerbaijan. In a separate development, Roskomnadzor sent a warning letter to Azerbaijan’s Russian language 1news.az website with a demand that the website removes one of the articles about the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.  

According to the editor-in-chief of 1news.az Kamala Mamedova, the letter claimed that the information resource (i.e., 1news.az) contained information distributed in violation of the law. The description of the information distributed in violation of the law was as follows: “Inaccurate socially significant information aimed at destabilizing the social and political situation in the Russian Federation.” Mamedova said, that information was taken from an official Ukrainian source and that’s what Roskomnadzor did not like. The editor said she responded to Roskomnadzor, thanking them for paying such close attention to their website and expressing her resentment “over why the media in Azerbaijan should follow incomprehensible laws of Russia, where wording undesirable to the Kremlin should be subject to sanctions.” 

Last month Russia’s chief media regulator – Roskomnadzor – blocked access to four Azerbaijan news websites. In retaliation, Baku is mulling over blocking Sputnik – Russia’s state-owned news platform active in Azerbaijan since 2015. By June 13, at least six Azerbaijan news sites were blocked by the Russian internet regulator– Roskomnadzor. 

In an address during a parliamentary session on April 26, Azerbaijan Parliament Member Vahid Ahmedov asked the State Agency for Media Support and the Press Council to block Sputnik on the territory of Azerbaijan in response to Russia blocking access to four Azerbaijan news websites last month. 

Responding to Ahmedov’s calls, the head of the Press Council, Aflatun Amashov said he welcomed the call, adding, “This agency disrupts objective and balanced report. That is why it is worth considering the future of this agency’s work in Azerbaijan,” reported Turan News Agency. 

In March, Roskomnadzor blocked access to minval.az, oxu.az, baku.ws, and haqqin.az in the absence of any explanation. Following the blocking, a group of Azerbaijani journalist organizations appealed to Roskomadzor to revoke its decision. “This decision [to block access] was taken without any information or warning to the editorial office of the portal […] We believe it is necessary to note that the government of Azerbaijan has never blocked Russian media outlets in those crucial times for its security, even during the second Karabakh war,” read the statement

Meanwhile, inside Azerbaijan, the local authorities continue blocking access to a number of independent news websites reporting on Azerbaijan. 

In a separate case, Russian authorities accused the PR director of Baku Magazine, sports journalist, Rovshan Askerov of “rehabilitating Nazism.” The Investigative Committee of Russia said, “the investigation established that no later than April 6, 2022, Askerov published on his Facebook page (banned on the territory of the Russian Federation) deliberately false information insulting and discrediting the memory of the great Russian commander and defender of the Fatherland, Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov.”

Baku magazine is the “brainchild” of Leyla Aliyeva, daughter of Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, and according to the magazine’s website, “is a digital ‘magazine about everything’; it supports conservation and wildlife charities, and it’s also a hub for news, events, and features, from Azerbaijan and around the world.” The magazine is published by Darius Sanai and Condé Nast in London on behalf of Leyla Aliyeva, reads the further description on the magazine’s website. 

In his defense, Askerov said the allegations were “fictitious.”

The Facebook post the Russian authorities were referring to in their statement was indeed published by Askerov on April 6 [which Askerov has removed since then] in which Askerov, criticized the point of having the statue of Zhukov in the first place. According to Turan News Agency, if found guilty, Askerov is facing up to 5 million rubles in fines, or imprisonment for up to five years.

Askerov, is a dual citizen [even though according to Azerbaijani legislation, the country does not recognize dual citizenship.]

On May 11, according to reporting by Meydan TV, the Russian Ministry of the Interior issued a search warrant for Askerov. According to reporting by Turan News Agency, the Moscow court arrested Askerov in absentia on May 24. 

editor of an online news site detained then released

On April 13, Zahir Amanov, editor of an online news site cenub.az was detained according to Azadliq Radio, Azerbaijan language service for Radio Liberty. 

Amanov, 70, is also the founder of the said website which covers regional news in southern Azerbaijan. 

According to reporting by Turan News Agency, Amanov was detained on charges of extortion by threat however, colleagues say the accusations are bogus and are related to his work exposing the extent of local and regional corruption at a government level. The case involves Israfil Aliyev, the head of a local administrative office in the village of Sygdash, Masalli region who claimed Amanov blackmailed him. “We have known Zair Amanov for 30 years, as the head of one of Azerbaijan’s leading regional media outlets and an experienced journalist. Therefore, the accusation of extorting money and arresting him red-handed seems implausible.  We have no doubt that the case has been fabricated and we will follow up on it,” said Arif Aliyev, director of the Baku Press Club in an interview with Turan. 

If convicted, Amanov is facing up to five years in jail. 

According to the latest updates, Amanov was released on April 15 while investigations into extortion continue. 

New Media Law: implications for online media/journalism in Azerbaijan

In this legal analysis of the recently adopted media bill, AzNet Watch together with an independent human rights lawyer looks at the implications of the new law specifically on online media and journalists in Azerbaijan. 

On February 8, 2022, the president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev approved the new Media Law. The law was adopted by Parliament on December 30, 2021. It was heavily criticized by local and international rights organizations who made repeated calls on the government to refrain from adopting the New Media Law given its restrictive nature. Critics of the draft law worried the new legal document would seriously threaten media freedom, including online media resources, as it contains provisions granting a discretionary power to the state, to regulate media excessively, and especially online media, as well as introduce further restrictions on journalists’ work, media companies, and relevant entities. Critics were also vocal about the absence of a broad and meaningful public consultation of the law prior to its adoption.

Despite concerns and criticisms, the government of Azerbaijan said the Media Law met international standards and went ahead with adopting the law anyway. And yet, our legal analysis in the context of a broader reflection on the state of media freedom in Azerbaijan, indicates, the new law is as far from international standards as it could be.

The new law empowers media regulatory authorities to issue sanctions for online media outlets located outside of Azerbaijan. The order also instructs the cabinet of ministers to prepare a draft law establishing administrative responsibility for violating the Media Law along with an additional list of powers of the media regulatory authority added to the law.

The new media law further consolidates government control over the media environment and journalistic activity, making it easier to punish media subjects and journalists.

The new law imposes numerous requirements and regulations on audiovisual media, print media, online media entities, news agencies, and journalists.

The bill also comes at a time, when the state’s media regulatory policy was already restrictive. Its attempts to control media began in the 2000s. Scores of journalists have been prosecuted and persecuted as a result. According to the Council of Europe’s Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists,  currently, there are 4 journalists in detention and there are two cases of impunity for murder in Azerbaijan. Numerous news websites have been blocked for access. The most recent World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders ranks Azerbaijan 167th out of 180 countries.[1]

How did we get here?

In Azerbaijan, the media landscape has always been under the formal and de-facto control of an administrative system similar to the Soviet era. However, since the early 2000s, attempts to control media became more systematic. This was due to a government policy of “state care” for the media through state funding. Just to be clear, the media never had favorable conditions that would otherwise enable them to access unhindered funding and support. Instead, the state consistently funded private and state media in the country in an exchange for favorable coverage of the ruling government and its policies.[2]

This policy enabled the state, to control national and international (foreign media platforms) media on the grounds this was necessary for the sake of national security. As a result, with a few exceptions, even international media based outside of Azerbaijan was under direct or indirect control by the state or by some branches of the state.

Until 2009, the state pursued a policy of controlling media by issuing one-time financial assistance to the press.[3]  Other forms of state funding included presidential decrees awarding the journalists with honorary diplomas[4], individual scholarships[5], and various orders and medals[6].

This policy became more systematic with “The concept of the state support of the development of mass media in the Azerbaijan Republic” approved by the presidential order on July 31, 2008. In the preamble of the concept it is noted, “it has become a necessity of the modern times, to provide state support to mass information services’ development and activities.”[7]

On April 3, 2009, in accordance with a presidential decree, a state support fund for the development of mass media was established. The Presidential Administration was authorized with the overall control over the fund’s operation.

The fund implemented state control and regulation of media until, its now-former executive director was arrested, charged with embezzlement, money laundering, and abuse of office and the body was dissolved. The arrest came at a time when fresh reforms to media regulation were introduced.[8]

Immediately after, President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree “on deepening media reforms” in Azerbaijan. The decree included the creation of a new agency, the Media Development Agency as successor to the State Support Fund for the Development of Mass Media under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Preparation of the new media law

Although the January 12, 2020 presidential decree called for a new media law to be drafted within two months, the government only made general statements on several provisions of the new bill in July 2020.[9] The new law was not publicly shared until December 2021, when it was sent to the parliament for debate and later for its approval. Only a handful of people, carefully selected by the government, saw the full text of the draft law before it was enacted. Media analyst Alasgar Mammadli who was among the group of experts invited to review the text said that although there were some 40 proposals made for the new Media Law, only two were taken into account.

In a letter dated January 18, 2022, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, invited the President of Azerbaijan, to use his authority to return the recently adopted media law to the national parliament.[11] On February 10, 2022, the Committee to Protect Journalists called on Azerbaijan to repeal a newly enacted media law.

None of these international calls were taken into account.

The implications of the new Media Law for online media and journalism in Azerbaijan

While the new media law raised a number of concerns for the overall media environment, it introduced adverse consequences for online media platforms and journalism. The initial analysis of the text of the law reveals numerous problems as outlined below:

1.     Poorly worded definitions and excessive requirements and prohibitions for online media content

Article 14 of the Media Law requires that information published and (or) disseminated in the media (including online media) must meet at least 14 requirements. The law also requires that content published by media outlets should meet the requirements of the Law on Protection of Children from Harmful Information and the Law on Information, Informatization and Protection of Information which provides an exhaustive list of requirements criticized for vagueness.

For instance, Article 14.1.6. of the law prohibiting media from using “immoral lexical (swearing) words and expressions, gestures” contradicts the requirements of the European Court of Human Rights standards as “prescribed by law” on the account that it lacks sufficient clarity and precision. The article also does not comply with a standard, “necessary in a democratic society,” “found in Articles 8-11 of the European Convention on Human Rights which provides that the state may impose restrictions of these rights only if such restrictions are ‘necessary in a democratic society’ and proportional to the legitimate aims enumerated in each article.”  The text authorizes the authorities to consider any impugned statement or general criticism as an “immoral lexical (swearing) words of expressions”. With such a broad definition, this requirement has a chilling effect on journalists.

Article 14.1.11 of the law reads, “facts and events must be interpreted impartially and objectively, and one-sidedness must not be allowed.” A duty to impartial and accurate reporting and one-sidedness is likely to result in journalists refraining from exercising their right to freedom of expression without self-censorship. A failure of this requirement subjects the journalist to heavy sanctions. Furthermore, taking into account the existing political atmosphere in the country, such broadly defined restrictions can prevent journalists and other professionals working for online media from staying impartial without any interference.

Article 14.1.14  concerns published content according to which, “publication (dissemination) of information about the crime committed by a person in the absence of a court order that has entered into force should not be allowed.” Such a direct ban in general form could limit the freedom of expression, in particular, where certain cases are widely covered in the media on account of the seriousness of the facts and the individuals. The journalist also can be subject to disproportionate sanctions for publication or dissemination of information, which is already known to people, for instance in case of scandalous news about the corruption of officials. This clause heavily limits the primary duty of ensuring diversity and plurality of voices in the media.

Any imposed restrictions must meet the requirements as prescribed by law pursuant of legitimate aims (allowed by the international human rights law), necessary in a democratic society, such as proportionality, and non-discrimination.

2.     Requirements for staff at online media outlets and freelance journalists working for online media – power of the Media Registry

According to the new law, Azerbaijan must establish a registry system of online media outlets and journalists working for online media platforms or working as freelance journalists. This and other additional provisions of the law raise a number of questions regarding the compliance of the law with the international standards on media freedom.

Article 62.1 reads that permission from state bodies is not required for setting up online media. But Article 62.2 requires that an online media entity must apply to the relevant executive authority (Media Registry) 7 days prior to the publication or dissemination of the relevant media material.  In other words, while there is no need to apply for creating an online media platform, there is a requirement to apply for a permit once the online resource becomes operational and starts publishing. Article 62.4 requires an additional opinion issued by the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations before an online media focusing on religion and religious content is set up. In addition, Article 78.3 obligates online media to apply to the Media Registry within 6 months since the platforms become operational.

Article 60.5 requires online media to publish at least 20 articles per day to qualify as an online media platform.

Article 26 obligates the founder of the online media to be a citizen of the Azerbaijan Republic permanently residing in the Azerbaijan Republic. In case the founder is a legal entity, then the highest share (75 percent) in the authorized capital must belong to a citizen (citizens) of Azerbaijan permanently residing in the country.

The Cabinet of Ministers has been instructed to prepare regulation on the provision of registration at the Media Registry within 3 months as per presidential order “on the application of the Law of the Republic of Azerbaijan ‘On Media’ and regulation of a number of issues arising from it” dated February 8, 2022. And Article 60 of the new law requires that online media outlets disclose their organizational information on their respective websites. Article 60.2 also requires online media to register with the tax authorities, identify and appoint a person responsible for editorial.

Article 26.3 prohibits previously convicted individuals from setting up media platforms. The list of previous convictions is exhaustive including serious or especially serious crimes; crimes against public morality; persons whose convictions have not been expunged or revoked; including political parties (excluding print media); and religious organizations (excluding print media). Prohibiting religious and political organizations from establishing online media is a failure to comply with the international standards on the right to freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.

3.     Importance of registering with the Media Registry for online media platforms

The Media Register is an electronic information resource managed by a Media Development Agency which is managed by the Supervisory Board consisting of the Chairman and 6 (six) members appointed by the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. In order to be registered at the Media Registry as a media entity (subject), a media entity can apply either as a legal entity or as a sole entrepreneur (Article 74).

Article 74.2 sets out a list of requirements journalists must comply with for their inclusion in the registry. These requirements include a degree in higher education as well as another number of different merit-based criteria. Article 74.2.5 requires that journalists obtain and provide an employment contract with a media entity. Individuals or freelance journalists must have a civil contract with at least one media entity registered at the Media Registry in order to be able to register at the media registry.

Those outlets who succeed at registering with the Media Register are issued certificates (which grant access to government events, press conferences and etc.), and journalists are issued press cards (valid for three years and subject to renewal upon request). Media entities, including online media outlets not included in this registry, will not be considered mass media, and subsequently, unable to hire journalists. Also, in case the online media platform is not registered by the registry, journalists who have contracts with these online media platforms, won’t be admitted to the Media Registry and won’t be issued press cards.

Registration with the Media Register is one of the main guarantees for the free operation of media outlets and journalists. For example, according to Article 72.6 of the Law, only media entities and journalists included in the Media Register may carry on with their work during military and/or state of emergency situations, in special operations against religious extremism, and in operations against terrorism.

In the absence of certificates issued exclusively by the register, journalists may also not be allowed to conduct polls on the streets.

These and other requirements as outlined in the law, create additional challenges for freelance journalists working (on contracts) with international media outlets or local online media outlets not registered with the Media Register.

4.     Suspension of online media outlet

Another issue of concern under the new law is the rules governing the suspension or termination of the activities of online media entities or distribution of media products by a court decision. According to the law, the activities of online media entities and the distribution of media products are suspended on the following occasions:

–       if a foreigner or stateless person, as well as a person without higher education, is appointed to the position of the head of the governing body of online media entity;

–       if a person who has received an administrative sanction for abuse of freedom of activity in the field of media and the right to be a journalist repeats the same mistake within one year from the date of entry into force of the decision of administrative sanction;

–       when online media entities violate the requirements of articles 13.1 and 13.2 of this Law[12] after being warned 3 (three) times in a year;

The suspension of the online media outlet based on abuse of freedom in the field of media rights or journalist rights is quite vague, and the law does not provide further definitions as to what constitutes the abuse of freedom in the area of media rights. Such vague provisions are likely to empower state authorities to consider any possible media activity as an abuse of freedom in the media field.

Furthermore, the law authorizes the state to suspend the activity of the online media where the online media entity commits the violations after three consecutive warnings. However, it is questionable whether there is a role for a court to challenge or review the issuance of such warnings. In practice, authorities can issue warnings or requests in the form of letters, to the online media platforms asking them to “correct flaws” and can use these warnings to suspend the work of online media outlets. Such warnings can be considered as ex-ante suspension or termination decisions if repeated within one or two years. Despite being a legal ground for further severe sanctions, the law does not clearly clarify on which basis such warnings can be issued.

To sum it up

An analysis of the law, in general, suggests that an already challenging environment for online media and journalism will get worse once the new law is fully implemented by the end of this year. Thus, only media entities and journalists included in the media register established by law will be able to enjoy the privileges provided by the state in the field of media activities.

In addition, the law gives the government broad powers to suspend or liquidate online media entities, resulting in severe penalties for “media and journalists who do not follow the rules.” From the international standards point of view, suspension or termination of media in such broadly defined circumstances and terms is severe and unlikely to comply with the standards necessary in a democratic society established by the ECHR case law. Furthermore, having a dissuasive effect, such disproportionate restrictions can be seen as an effective means of censorship over online media.

Furthermore, due to the strict state control over the activities of media outlets in Azerbaijan, their economic resources are limited, often forcing them to operate with insufficient financial resources which is not sustainable long term. Measures such as increased taxes and other additional state duties are likely to create further challenges for the activities of online media entities.

The overall analysis of the law reveals that its main purpose is to regulate online media and journalism the way authorities regulate print media, ignoring the features and needs of ICT-based online media. The new law gives the power to suspend and/or terminate the activities of online media and impose severe sanctions.

Relevant international standards

There is a valuable and solid interpretative jurisprudence in the CoE, established in the course of decades by the European Court of Human Rights, which also includes the provision of journalistic activities and media services in an online environment. Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights applies to the Internet as a means of communication (Delfi AS v. Estonia [GC], cited above, § 131), whatever the type of message and even when used for commercial purposes (Ashby Donald and Others v. France, no. 36769/08, § 34, 10 January 2013).[13]

A free, uncensored, and unhindered press or other media is essential in any society to ensure freedom of opinion and expression and the enjoyment of other human rights and freedoms.[14]  This implies a free press and other media able to comment on public issues without censorship or restraint and to inform public opinion. [15] Furthermore, journalism is a function shared by a wide range of actors, including professional full-time reporters and analysts, as well as bloggers and others who engage in forms of self-publication in print, on the internet, or elsewhere. And general State systems for registration or licensing of journalists are incompatible with paragraph 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ensuring the right to freedom of expression which also includes freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of choice.[16]

In its Resolution  2213 (2018), the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe observes that “a drop in the revenue of most media, the casting around of publishers for new business models and the virtually systematic outsourcing of work have all substantially contributed to the boom in the number of freelance journalists. The latter are confronted with a lack of professional recognition: although working in the same conditions as journalists employed on full-time contracts, they do not have the same rights and, in several countries, cannot be represented by trade unions and negotiate their rates.”  The Assembly, therefore, called on Council of Europe member States to review their domestic legislation on the status of journalists with a view to (i) identifying any areas to be updated, taking recent technological and economic developments into account (6.3.1), and (ii) providing a legal definition of journalists wide enough to encompass all forms of contemporary professional journalistic work, including internet-based work (6.3.3).[17]

In another Resolution 2256 (2019) on “Internet governance and human rights”, the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe recommends to the member states to “avoid concentrating powers exclusively in the hands of public authorities and preserve the role of organizations tasked with technical aspects and aspects of internet management, as well as the role of the private sector.”[18]

***

[1] https://eurasianet.org/azerbaijan-to-implement-new-media-restrictions
[2] As of 2019, there are two state-funded TV channels, which are not meeting the population’s information needs. In 2018 31.8m Azerbaijani manat was allocated to AzTV and AZN11.6m to ITV. Nevertheless, the result is that these amounts do not provide citizens with pluralistic information, since AZTV and ITV represent the interests of the government that funds them, not of society. Their news programs are not objective, alternative views are not included, the opposition and independent voices are not invited to the airwaves. 
[3]http://www.e-qanun.az/framework/15194;http://www.e-qanun.az/framework/10495;http://www.e-qanun.az/framework/907; http://www.e-qanun.az/framework/2915
[4]http://www.e-qanun.az/framework/30362;http://www.e-qanun.az/framework/6675;http://www.e-qanun.az/framework/6532; http://www.e-qanun.az/framework/11729;http://www.e-qanun.az/framework/21153
[5] http://www.e-qanun.az/framework/30359
[6] http://www.e-qanun.az/framework/30360
[7] https://cis-legislation.com/document.fwx?rgn=23907#A000000002; http://www.e-qanun.az/framework/15193
[8] https://oc-media.org/head-of-azerbaijans-state-media-fund-arrested-ahead-of-controversial-reforms/
[9] https://benefisiar.org/manset/17509/media-haqqinda-qanun-layihəsinin-bəzi-detallari-aciqlandi.html   
[11] Azerbaijan: new media law raises serious human rights concerns and should be changed. The Commissioner noted that “the newly adopted law further deteriorates the situation as concerns freedom of expression and media freedom in the country by granting discretionary powers to state authorities regulating the media sector, including through licensing, excessively restricting journalists’ work, … “
[12] the requirement to use the information of other media entities on a subscription or contract basis and, in the absence of a subscription or contract, with reference to not more than one-third of information.
[13] The Court has made the following observation (Delfi AS v. Estonia [GC], cited above, § 133):  (…) the Internet plays an important role in enhancing the public’s access to news and facilitating the dissemination of information in general (see Ahmet Yıldırım, cited above, § 48, and Times Newspapers Ltd, cited above, § 27). At the same time, the risk of harm posed by content and communications on the Internet to the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and freedoms, particularly the right to respect for private life, is certainly higher than that posed by the press (see Editorial Board of Pravoye Delo and Shtekel, cited above, § 63).
[14] See UN HRC general comment No. 34, para., 13
[15] See General Comment No. 25 on article 25 (Participation in public affairs and the right to vote).
[16] See General Comment No. 34. para., 44
[17] Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Resolution 2213 (2018). The status of journalists in Europe. https://pace.coe.int/en/files/24735/html
[18] Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Resolution 2256 (2019), Internet governance and human rights. https://pace.coe.int/en/files/25407/html

Website fined for not removing comments on social media page

On February 3, the local court fined Azermedia, the founder of the online news platform yeniavaz.az in the total amount of 1500AZN (approximately 880USD). The prosecutor cited the failure of the website management to remove comments posted on the website’s Facebook page according to Azerbaijan service for Radio Liberty. 

In court, the prosecutor’s office representative said the website management carried the responsibility to remove comments on its social media accounts that are slanderous and insulting. But the lawyer, Nemat Karimli repeated that Azermedia did not violate any rules and that claims by the prosecutor’s office about responsibility to remove comments on social media platforms were baseless. 

Following the court’s decision, Karimli said they will be appealing the decision. 

The court decision follows the weeks-long process between the prosecutor’s office and the yeniavaz.az and concerns a series of articles the website published starting January 12. The published articles cover the case of political activist Tofig Yagublu who was detained during a rally in December, beaten, and then let go. The investigation concluded that Yagublu beat himself and that the police had no involvement in the physical injuries caused to the activist.   

The website was fined based on Article 388.1.1.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses

for failure to take measures established by the Law of the Republic of Azerbaijan “On information, informatization and protection of information” in connection with the seizure of information prohibited for dissemination placed on the Internet information resources –

individuals shall be fined in the amount of 500 to 1000 manats, officials in the amount of 1000 to 1000 manats, or administrative detention for a period of up to one month shall be imposed on legal entities, depending on the circumstances of the case, legal entities shall be fined in the amount of 1500 to 2000 manats. is done.

Several social media users warned, one sentenced to 30 days of administrative detention

A series of new warnings were issued by the Prosecutor General office to social media users in Azerbaijan. In a statement issued by the Prosecutor General’s office, it claims five Azerbaijani citizens received a warning over their social media posts that the prosecutor’s office described as “violating stability, rights, and freedoms and casting a shadow over state’s efforts to strengthen defense capabilities.”

In addition, a citizen named Namig Aliyev was found guilty of violating the state law on Information, Informatisation, and Protection of Information. According to the prosecutor’s office, Aliyev, editor of Yeniavaz.com news website failed to remove a Facebook post about the story published by Yeniavaz.com website that qualified as “information prohibited from sharing.”

But a series of developments including a statement by Yeniavaz.com website editor show that not only did the Prosecutor Office provide false information about Namig Aliyev’s affiliation with Yeniavaz.com website but that the story the prosecutor office wanted removed directly referred to the prosecutor office earlier involvement in committing violence against an opposition activist.

Timeline of events

On December 1, 2021, a group of activists staged a protest in the capital Baku in support of jailed opposition activist Saleh Rustamov. During the protest, scores of activists were detained, including opposition figure Tofig Yagublu, a former political prisoner himself. The violence he faced in the hands of the police was widely reported on social media platforms.

The head of the Media and Public Relations Department of the Interior Ministry’s press service, while having denied any allegations of torture, promised to investigate the case of Yagublu. 

On January 12, the Prosectur Office said it had finalized the invetigation. According to the results, Yagublu was not tortured and that the signs of violence documented and widely reported were inflicted by Yagublu himself. The investigation claimed Yagublu harmed himsefl and that no police officer was involved in violence against Yagublu. 

Yeniavaz.com published three separate articles on the results of the investigation, most recent one on January 18, 2022. 

On January 24, Yeniavaz.com website editor Baylar Majidov, published a Facebook post, with the following text: 

“The prosecutor arrested a man named Namig Aliyev, and [Azerbaijani] media presented him as the director of Yeniavaz.com. Offically, we would like to note that not only do we not have an employee named Namiq Aliyev but he is certainly not the direcotr of Yeniavaz.com.”

Majidov also wrote that their newsroom never received an official request from the General Prosecutor office to remove any information from the website or from the news website’s social media accounts.   

Also on January 24, in another statement issued by the Prosecutor General Office, it announced its decision to sentence social media user Namig Aliyev to 30 days of aministrative detention for sharing information prohibited by law. The statement also said, the office launched administrative proceedings against Azermedia LLC, a legal entity representing the operations of yeniavaz.com on the grounds that the website failed to remove the information prohibited by law. 

On January 25, yeniavaz.com published a story by one of its authors, Anar Garakhanchalli being questioned at the Prosecutor General Office on January 20, 2022. There Garakhanchalli described the conversation he had: 
I was invited to the General Prosecutor office on January 20. After talking to me first about the state, the importance of the prosecutor office for the state and etc I asked them calmly what was the purpose of my invitiation. They told me, it was an article titled “Prosecutor office: ‘Tofig Yagublu’s state was caused as a result of him beating himself up'” that yeniavaz.com published on its website and shared on its Facebook page. So I asked, if there was something wrong about the story, whether it was a lie. They said, the story was correct, but we are concerned about the comments that were written under the post. I said, if the story was ture, if you have no objections then why am I here? I also added that Facebook has billions of users, how can we be held accountable for something written by others? The officer sitting across from me then said, we suspected that these responses would follow, after giving the story a headline like that. I told this this was ludicrous. You confirm yourself that the story is true, you do not object to any of the wording, and yet you are questioning the reporter’s intent?! 
After two hour long visit, Garakhanchalli was let go. 
No further statements were made by yeniavaz.com while the articles in question all remain available online at the time of writing of this post.
AIW previously documented a number of cases where social media users and journalists received warnings, or fines over their onlline posts. 

Journalist fined over published article

The list of social media users warned or fined as a result of their public posts on social platforms continues to grow in Azerbaijan. The latest case involves journalist and editor-in-chief of an online news platform jamaz.info, Ibishbeyli Fikret (Fikret Faramazoglu).  On January 12, Faramazoglu was summoned to the Prosecutor General Office where he was accused of “disseminating forbidden information on the internet”, an administrative offense under Article 388-1.1.1. The journalist was fined a total amount of AZN 500 [USD 295] following the court decision. The Prosecutor General Office alleged that the article published on jamaz.info website [“Shusha is under fire from Khankendi”] on January 11, caused confusion, and fear wrote the journalist following his release in a post on Facebook. The journalist intends to appeal the decision. 

Previously, AzNet Watch reported on other similar cases. Below is the summary: 

December 21, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan issued a statement that four citizens – Abushov Zamig, Mahmudov Ilgar, Ibrahimov Mehdi, and Safarsoy Rza – were invited to the prosecutor’s office for allegedly disseminating biased information on social networks. All four were warned that in case they repeat the offense, they could face more stringent measures reported Turan News Agency.

December 21, secondary school principal Hikmet Aghajanov was warned by the Prosecutor Office, over alleged online dissemination of prohibited information on suicide according to reporting by Report.az.

December 21, a statement by the Prosecutor Office further urged media entities and users of social networks to refrain from publicizing inaccurate and distorted information, warning that further measures would be taken otherwise.  

December 18, websites olke.az, and manevr.az, were fined in a total amount of AZN 1500 [USD 882] each for violating Article 388-1.1.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. 

December 18, journalist Sakhavat Mammad, with an online Yenicag.az website, was fined in a late-night trial, on charges of publishing prohibited information on an information resource or information/communication network in violation of Article 388-1.1.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. 

In a comment to AzNet Watch, an independent lawyer Emin Abbasov said, “Although Article 54.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses stipulates that the prosecutor shall initiate proceedings on certain categories of administrative offenses, the last sentence of that article authorizes the prosecutor to initiate proceedings on any other administrative offense. Apparently, the Code of the Administrative Offences (articles 54.2 and 99.3) empowers the Prosecutor General’s Office with wide powers including launching administrative offenses in any administrative offense cases. The wide discretion of criminal prosecution body beyond the criminal offenses, and in particular over the information distributed online puts huge pressure over freedom of expression and free flow of information.”

In Azerbaijan the parliament is discussing the controversial law on media – the bill already passed its second reading [Updated January 26]

[Update] On December 30, Azerbaijan’s parliament approved a new media law after its third and final reading. The law was passed despite mounting criticism from local journalists and is set to be signed by President Ilham Aliyev and become effective as of January 1, 2022. Hailed by its proponents as a reform bill, critics of the law warn that the new law’s will have an extensive impact on media freedom and independence in Azerbaijan [more here].

***

The plans to roll out a new Media Law in Azerbaijan were announced in January 2021 following a Presidential Decree “on deepening media reforms in the Republic of Azerbaijan.” Now, almost a year later, despite local advocacy by journalists and news platforms to reconsider adopting the legal document, the law passed its second reading on December 20, 2021. Although the law has not been finally approved and signed by the president, the local media already reported several citizens fined or warned over the content they have shared online. 

The controversy of the new law

On December 16, two days after the draft law passed its first reading a group of civil society representatives issued a statement urging the lawmakers to reconsider the draft law in its current form. According to the statement, the law “opens up a wide range of opportunities for the state to determine who can engage in journalism and rejects the model of media self-regulation. It inflicts incurable wounds on freedom of media, which is an important component of the right to freedom of expression.” 

According to Eurasianet.net reporting

Among the many new regulations: The state will now create a registry of journalists, who have to fit specific criteria (including lack of a criminal record) to be included. Owners of media outlets will have to live in Azerbaijan, which would effectively ban many of the country’s independent media which are run by Azerbaijanis who fled the country. Online news outlets will be required to publish at least 20 news pieces on a daily basis.

There are also a wide variety of content restrictions in the new law. Journalists will be prohibited from “propagating superstitions.” “Tarnishing a business’s reputation” will also not be allowed. Section 14.1.11 stipulates that “facts and events must be interpreted impartially and objectively, and one-sidedness must not be allowed.”

The intent appears to be to give the government more freedom to block media it deems unfriendly.

Reactions

Media law expert Alasgar Mammadli told Kanal13 in an interview that the law now grants a right to block online content on a whim. Azerbaijan is already blocking a wide range of independent and opposition news websites since 2017. The most recent findings were released this summer by AzNet Watch in partnership with OONI. But media censorship is an ongoing issue according to Qurium Media Foundation that released another report, this summer, documenting a decade of media censorship in Azerbaijan based on the organization’s work assisting targeted, and blocked news platforms in the country. 

In an interview with Toplum TV, journalist Seymur Kazimov said, the new provisions are “backward.”

On December 22, a human rights organization “Defense Line”, said in a statement that the new law was also in violation of the Azerbaijan Constitution: 

Part I of Article 7 of the Constitution states that the Azerbaijani state is a democratic, legal republic, Article 50, Part II guarantees freedom of mass information, as well as prohibits state censorship of the press. However, in recent years, dozens of journalists have been subjected to politically motivated administrative and criminal prosecution, ill-treatment, and illegal interference in the activities of electronic and written publications by administrative bodies.

In its statement, the organization further made calls on the government of Azerbaijani and its legislature to comply with the requirements of Articles 10 (freedom of expression), 47 (freedom of thought and expression), and 50 (freedom of information) of the European Convention.

Gubad Ibadoglu, professor of economics, who manages an online YouTube platform Biz told Azerbaijan Service for Radio Liberty that the new law aims to restrict the media and increase the risk of blocking critical television programs broadcast from abroad. 

First signs of controlling online content

On December 21, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan issued a statement that four citizens – Abushov Zamig, Mahmudov Ilgar, Ibrahimov Mehdi, and Safarsoy Rza – were invited to the prosecutor’s office for allegedly disseminating biased information on social networks. All four were warned that in case they repeat the offense, they could face more stringent measures reported Turan News Agency.

In addition, several websites were issued a fine in violation of Article 388-1.1.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. According to reporting by Report.az, on December 18, olke.az, and manevr.az, were fined in a total amount of AZN 1500 [USD 882] each over alleged illegal dissemination of information that promotes suicide as a solution mechanism, “while substantiating, inciting, and explaining the methods of its commission.” 

Lawyer Khaled Aghaly said the decision was embarrassing. In an interview with Meydan TV, Aghaly said that both websites were fined over publishing exact same text. “Manevr.az” website copied the story published by “olke.az.” According to the law on Mass Media, in case, information was shared from another resource [rather than published as an original text], the news outlet republishing the content should be freed from any responsibility. It is unfortunate that even the courts ignored this [when issuing their final decision],” explained Aghaly.

In addition, on December 18, journalist Sakhavat Mammad, with an online Yenicag.az website, was fined in a late-night trial, on charges of publishing prohibited information on an information resource or information/communication network in violation of Article 388-1.1.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. 

In March 2020, Article 388-1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses was aggravated with the penalty of up to one-month administrative detention with other sanctions against real or legal owners of internet information resources and associated domain names as well as against 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. 

Commenting on Sakhavat Mammad’s case, media law expert Alasgar Mammadli told Meydan TV that the new law is already being put to use even though it officially enters into force next year. “Calling the journalist to the prosecutor’s office, and then hastily fining him in court [in the absence of an investigation, explicit mentioning of which law was violated, and which secrets were spread], is nothing but a pressure on freedom of speech and is the violation of freedom of expression,” Mammadli added. 

But this is also not the first time that a journalist faced punishment over their work, reported Azerbaijan service for Radio Free Europe. In 2019, Mustafa Hajiyebli, editor of opposition bastainfo.com received an administrative sentence. He was accused of instilling chaos among the public. Around the same time, the editor of criminal.az website, Anar Mammadov faced similar charges. A number of other cases were documented in the most recent Freedom on the Net report published by Freedom House. 

Finally, one secondary school principal Hikmet Aghajanov was warned by the Prosecutor Office, over alleged online dissemination of prohibited information on suicide according to reporting by Report.az.

December 21 statement by the Prosecutor Office further urged media entities and users of social networks to refrain from publicizing inaccurate and distorted information, warning that further measures would be taken otherwise.  

[Update] Over the next month the Prosecutor Office continued issuing warnings. Most recently on January 24, a group of social media users was warned while one social media user was sentenced to a month in administrative detention. Also, on January 24, activist and member of the opposition Musavat party’s youth branch, Aziz Mamiyev was questioned at the police according to reporting by Meydan TV. Mamiyev said it was his social media posts that had him questioned. The activist said police showed him the printout of his TikTok video too telling him he mentioned President Ilham Aliyev there. “They told me, it is your problem if you are criticizing the government but be careful about your writing. Be careful in your struggle,” wrote Mamiyev in a Facebook post adding that regardless he considers the nature of this visit political and pressure by the government against freedom of speech.

In a comment to AzNet Watch, an independent lawyer Emin Abbasov said, “Although Article 54.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses stipulates that the prosecutor shall initiate proceedings on certain categories of administrative offenses, the last sentence of that article authorizes the prosecutor to initiate proceedings on any other administrative offense. Apparently, the Code of the Administrative Offences (articles 54.2 and 99.3) empowers the Prosecutor General’s Office with wide powers including launching administrative offenses in any administrative offense cases. The wide discretion of criminal prosecution body beyond the criminal offenses, and in particular over the information distributed online puts huge pressure over freedom of expression and free flow of information.”

Gag order around “Terter” case

In another warning issued by the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Interior Ministry, and the State Security Service of Azerbaijan, the government institutions warned of spreading false information on the ongoing Terter Case. According to the wording of the warning, “representatives of mass media, users of social media platforms, as well as participants in criminal proceedings [shall be] informed that the dissemination of preliminary investigation information without proper permission creates liability under criminal law.” The government institutions also warned that measures will be taken against those who disseminate biased and distorted information in order to overshadow the activities of government agencies and the victorious Azerbaijani Army, influence the investigation, and deliberately mislead the public.

The Terter Case refers to 2017 events surrounding a group of Azerbaijani servicemen accused of collaborating with the intelligence and security services of Armenia. At the time, the Military Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Azerbaijan launched a criminal case, under Article 274 (treason) of the Criminal Code on treason and other criminal acts. The faith of these men remained largely unknown until the following year, when “persons who claimed to have been illegally detained, interrogated and tortured” began talking about what happened to them on social media platforms. Since then, the case has been widely referred to as the Terter case. 

According to a statement by the OMCT issued in April 2021, following the investigations, it was possible to identify that at least “78 Azerbaijani citizens [were] detained and sentenced to between 12 and 20 years in prison, with multiple cases of torture, including 11 deaths in custody of Azerbaijani military personnel and civilians.” 

In June 2021, 24 members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) signed a motion, requesting to appoint a rapporteur to investigate the reported torture and ill-treatment in the Terter case.

On November 1, Lieutenant General of Justice Khanlar Valiyev, deputy prosecutor general and military prosecutor of Azerbaijan “admitted to local media that more than 100 servicemen were tortured during the investigation of Terter case.” 

On November 5, 2021, the case was discussed during a meeting of the Committee on Legal Affairs of PACE according to reporting by Turan News Agency. 

What’s next?

The new media law enters into force on January 1, 2022. Media law experts and journalists, say instead, the authorities should have focused on decriminalizing defamation and libel, adopting a law on defamation and relying on existing legal structures rather than draft a new law, which was largely kept away from public discussions and despite demands by independent and opposition journalists and other representatives of civil society, refused to open the draft bill for review and recommendation process as has been the case with the Law on Access to Information, passed by Parliament in 2005. In an interview with Turan News Agency, lawyer Khaled Aghaly explained that at the time, “[the bill] was developed with the participation of media law experts, the local and international community.” Unfortunately, this practice was dismissed this time around explained Aghaly. 

Local experts believe it is possible to change the course as long as there is an interest on behalf of the government. Meanwhile, on December 24, the parliament is scheduled to discuss the existing law on Information, Informatisation, and Protection of Information and the list of proposed amendments published on the parliament’s website on December 20. If approved the following changes will be made to the existing bill: 

  • in its present form, the law does not oblige the regulatory body to provide the information resource owners, internet and host providers, or other sites’ substantiated opinion reasoning for the content prohibited. In other words, the regulatory body and other state authorities can request to remove the content or block access to websites without any obligation to substantiate their demands;

    • The proposed amendment calls for clear reasoning behind the content removal request;
  • Previously a whole website could be closed for access for publishing “prohibited information”;
    • The proposed amendment calls blocking specific content;