opposition leader’s mobile and internet cut off ahead of live interview [last updated September 4]

[UPDATE] September 4, in an interview with independent Turan News Agency, Ali Karimli confirmed that he remains cut off the internet. His cellular signal also stops functioning after 8 pm every day. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As of April 15, the disruptions continue.


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

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

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

internet is reportedly down across Azerbaijan

On April 21, several cities and administrative districts across the country reported experiencing internet disruptions.

The disruptions were reported on DeltaTelecom one of the only two companies in Azerbaijan licensed to connect international internet traffic [the second one being AzerTelecom]. Delta Telecom is considered the backbone internet provider in Azerbaijan and handles most of the ISP traffic. It owns a data center and provides hosting services.

One earlier report claimed the disruptions were the result of problems in the internet traffic coming in from Russia. The nature of these problems was not identified. And became clear shortly after, that this was not indeed the cause for disruptions.

According to Osman Gunduz, the head of Azerbaijan Internet Forum, it was the damage to the fiber optic cables connecting Delta Telecom’s second main center and the backbone itself during street excavations. As a result, Delta Telecom’s second main center started experiencing connectivity issues. This resulted in several ISPs and large companies experiencing major internet connectivity disruptions.

The Ministry of Transportation, Communication, and High Technologies (MCHT) is yet to issue a statement. In an interview, with a local online news platform Gafgazinfo the spokesperson Gunel Gozalova said the problem was not the damage caused to existing underground cables but issues with the commercial provider bringing Internet traffic into the country. “As a result of the countrywide quarantine regime during COVID19, many companies shifted their work to an online regime. The same goes for the education system where classes are now conducted in an online format. As a result, the country’s broadband internet network is overloaded. And sometimes, the preferred device installed at people’s homes does not meet currently increased demands.”

The spokesperson assured the ministry is doing its best to meet the spike in demands, working with experts around the clock.

It seems the spokesperson missed the memo [and so did the main news agency APA] from Delta Telecom because according to this media platform, who spoke with the director of the main internet provider [Public Television Channel] Delta Telecom, the disruptions were caused by “cable outage” during maintenance excavation work around one of capital’s automatic telephone exchange [ATS] locations.

As of April 22, Internet users across the country including in the capital continued reporting of weak signal or on-going disruptions in connections.

This is not the first time, major disruptions have been reported across the country.

In November 2015, massive Internet outage caused by a fire at a landline of the major Internet provider “Delta Telecom” left the country disconnected for at least 6 hours. In August 2016, some users experienced problems establishing an internet connection for several hours as a result of problems with Delta-Telecom’s infrastructure or as a result of debts owed by smaller providers to Delta Telecom. In October 2017, the MTCHT announced slow internet traffic across 23 regions due to AzTelekom’s [second government-owned internet provider] maintenance work to improve connectivity. In early July 2018, the country experienced its worst blackout in decades after a fire broke out at the country’s largest power plant.

In addition to accidents, technical, and other maintenance-related disruptions, there are intentional restrictions reported during certain political occasions such as political rallies or international events. In 2016 during the country-wide referendum, Virtual Road documented how authorities generated artificial internet network congestion within Azerbaijan to prevent access to the websites of both RFE/RL’s Azerbaijan Service and the Voice of America’s Azerbaijani services. 

During the Islamic Solidarity Games, there were reports of users having difficulties accessing and using Skype, Viber, and WhatsApp. Only after the games were over, the Ministry of Transport, Communications, and High Technologies issued a statement confirming, “Temporary restrictions to telecom services (Skype, Viber, WhatsApp,etc.), [were] imposed in Azerbaijan as part of security measures during the 4th IslamicSolidarity Games.

Opposition activists say internet service sometimes slows down or stops working completely in the hours before rallies are set to begin. Similarly, residents in neighborhoods where rallies often take place, too have experienced connectivity issues for the duration of these events. In response to these disruptions, local ISPs argue that the connectivity issues are directly linked to the number and density of users gathered in one place during that specific time.

And last but not least, the quality of the internet in Azerbaijan lags behind even its closest neighbors. According to the annual Freedom on the Net report, in Azerbaijan, “the fixed broadband market lacks equality between operators. The absence of regulatory reform also inhibits the development of the sector. Osman Gunduz cites Azerbaijan’s underdeveloped infrastructure as a key obstacle toward attaining greater access and higher connection speeds. And in his most recent Facebook post, Gunduz wrote that the recent disruptions attest to existing problems despite the on-going effort invested in setting up stable information infrastructure in the country over the recent years.