Azerbaijan renames main Internet regulator [update May 24]

On October 11, the main internet regulator in Azerbaijan – the Ministry for Transport, Communication and High Technologies – was renamed the Ministry of Digital Development and Transport. The move comes following the signing of a Presidential Order that includes “improving management in the field of digitalization, innovation, high technology and communication in Azerbaijan,” according to reporting. 

The decree also orders the setting up of the following departments within the rebranded ministry: 

  • The Agency for Information Communication Technologies; 
  • Innovation and Digital Development Agency (which will now combine, National Nuclear Research Center, Innovation Agency, and High Technologies Research Center);

Under its responsibilities, the Agency for Information Communication Technologies will:

  • carry out certification, accounting, control, and regulation of information communication technologies (including quality control) – this means that the new agency will act as the main internet regulator from now on; 

Experts say, the newly set up internet regulator, is unlikely to act independently. Human rights lawyer, Emin Abbasov said, “For many years, regulation in this sector [ICT] belonged to the Ministry [of Transport, Communication, and High Technologies]. And it has been a long-awaited move to set up an independent internet regulatory body. However, the new agency is unlikely to act independently as its head will be appointed by the Minister of Digital Development and Transport.”

Similarly, commenting on the decision, the President of Azerbaijan Internet Forum, Osman Gunduz said while it is a good sign that there is a new agency, its autonomy from its predecessor is yet to be seen. “For many years, the Ministry was the regulator. Basically, the ministry was regulating the ICT market, in which it also had stakes. There was a department within the ministry responsible for regulations and for decades this department favored government operators by creating favorable conditions for them. So it is a positive step that there is now a separate agency. What is interesting however is that according to the order, the head of the Agency will be appointed by the Minister [of Digital Development and Transport]. It would have been better if it was the President. Because it is unlikely that the Agency is going to have it easy regulating a deeply embedded tradition and creating equal conditions for both state and private companies. The question we should be asking is whether the leadership of the agency will have the authority and say in regulating the state operator in accordance with the new rules and procedures? And whether yet again, state companies will hold an upper hand in the market?  

In Azerbaijan, the ICT market is fairly concentrated in the hands of the government – in terms of control, and regulation as well as services – namely the Ministry of Transport, Communication, and High Technologies. In 2016, the President approved a Strategic Roadmap for Telecommunication and Information Technology Development. According to item seven, titled “strategic goals,” the document called for setting up an independent regulatory body by 2020.

On May 24, according to changes to a presidential decree dated January 12, 2018, the Ministry’s name was changed once again to the Ministry of Digital Development and Transport.

opposition party boss seeks justice at the European Court of Human Rights

Ali Karimli, the head of the opposition Popular Front Party, and his spouse Samara Seyidova said they are preparing for the European Court of Human Rights, having received no response from domestic courts concerning their home internet connections being cut off since April of last year.  

AIW was documenting Karimli’s case since April 13 when the opposition boss encountered connection issues before a live interview with journalist Sevinc Osmangizi [for the detailed timeline please visit here]. 

Since then, despite numerous attempts, the leader of the Popular Front failed to resolve the problem through domestic courts. Most recently, the ruling of the Baku Appeal Court confirmed previous court decisions, thus ruling against the party head. The court of appeal is the final legal entity to accept and deal with similar complaints. “In such cases, the appeal to the Supreme Court is not expected. This is why we intend to take our complaint to the European Court,” said one of the lawyers defending Karimli in an interview with Azadliq Radio. 

The defendants are the Ministry of Transportation, Communication and High Technologies, Azercell mobile operator, AzQTEL internet provider, the Ministry of the Interior, State Security Service, and the Special State Protection Service. According to Karimli his rights were violated under Articles 6 (right to a fair trial), 8 (right to respect of family and private life), 10 (freedom of expression), 14 (prohibition of discrimination), and 18 (Limitation on use of restrictions on rights) of the European Convention on Human Rights

Karimli’s access to the internet was restored twice since April. Once on January 12 and in May but only briefly, for few hours. Karimli is certain the decision to cut him and his familly off internet is political. Government supporters think otherwise. Siyavush Novruzov, a parliament member, blamed Karimli for not paying his bills on time and laying the responsibility on the government. In the meantime, Azercell, the mobile operator [with ties to the government], said in a statement it does not discreminate among its customers based on their political views. 

But while government representatives and affiliated companies claim otherwise, Karimli and his family members had their rights violated. According to a fact checking platform FaktYoxla Karimli’s case, goes against severeal articles and guarantees specieifed by the national constitution and can be described as an unlawful interference. Specifically, it is against the right to equality and freedom of expression, right to live in safety and privacy. In addition, actions against Karimly contradict the provisions of the Law on Telecommunications, Access to Information and Personal Information and are criminalized by criminal law.

AIW will continue documenting developments in the case of Ali Karimli and the family.