the tale of blocked websites

In July of last year, in their response to the Government of Azerbaijan, four of the websites that were blocked for access in Azerbaijan in 2017, reiterated their claim that the ban violates their right to freedom of expression. According to EHRAC, this response came following the Government’s [of Azerbaijan] submissions to the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”). 

EHRAC (European Human Rights Advocacy Center) represents four of the websites – Meydan TV, Azadliq Info, Azerbaycan Saadi, and Turan TV and has been working in tandem with local legal partners on the case. 

At the time of blocking these websites in 2017, the Government of Azerbaijan argued “a number of articles published by the four critical news websites included calls aimed at “forcible change of the constitutional order”, “organization of mass riots”, and other illegal activities.” 

In reality, all four websites are considered independent and/or platforms affiliated with opposition parties or their critical position against broader government practices and policies adopted by the ruling government of Azerbaijan. As a result, the decision to block them was based on the 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.” 

While access to the said websites remains blocked in Azerbaijan further developments signal a consistent pattern of censorship and impunity.

two editors of online news platforms arrested [updated March 31]

[Update] On March 30, Sadigov’s wife, Sevinc Sadigova reported she was being blackmailed by the State Security Services threatening her with releasing personal videos of Sadigova. Afgan Sadigov has been on a hunger strike for 147 days now. On the 80th day, he lost consciousness and fell into a coma. After that, he was put on artificial feeding but has denied that in the past week as well said Sadigova. Following her statement about threats, the Prosecutor General office issued a warning to Sadigova denying allegations made by the journalist’s wife. In a statement obtained by Meydan TV, the Prosecutor General office said, that they would take legal action against Sadigova and those who spared such false and biased information on social networks and in the media, calling to refrain from such illegal actions.

According to existing national legislation, sharing, spreading, or selling video and photographs of people’s personal lives is punishable by a fine [1000-2000AZN], public work [240-480 hours], or correctional work [up to 1 year]. If this information is obtained by officials or via drones it is punishable by deprivation from official work for up to three years, up to two years of imprisonment, or up to two years of restricted freedom.   

February 7, on his 95th day of hunger strike, journalist Afgan Sadigov is experiencing memory loss said Sadigov’s wife, Sevinc Sadigova in an interview with Turan News Agency. Sadigova also said, her husband lost consciences on the 80th day of the hunger strike, and as a result fell into a coma. Although he regained his consciences his condition remains critical. Sadigova also said, that her husband has been receiving food injections through a tube.

January 28, the court of appeal reduced the sentence of Afgan Sadigov whose health condition remains critical Turan News Agency reports. The Sumgayit Court of Appeal in a hearing where Sadigov was absent ruled to reduce the seven-year sentence to 6. Speaking to Turan News Agency Sadigov’s lawyer Elchin Sadigov [not related] said the defendant intends to file a cassation appeal with the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights. Meanwhile, the journalist’s wife, Sevinc Sadigova said the decision is a travesty of justice sentencing her husband to death

On January 10, the family members of Sadigov reported his health was in critical condition and that the journalist was at the Penitentiary Service medical ward. Attempts to receive a comment from the Penitentiary Service were futile according to Azadliq Radio. 

On November 3, Afgan Sadigov was sentenced to seven years. In protest to the sentence, Sadigov, went on a hunger strike as of November 4. Meanwhile, Sakit Muradov, who was tried together with Sadigov was absent during the court hearing. According to Azadliq Radio reporting, Muradov was not detained during the investigation and was placed under police surveillance instead. Unlike Sadigov, Muradov received a suspended sentence.

On May 13, editors Afgan Sadigov, from AzelTV and Sakit Muradov, from Xeberfakt.az were reportedly arrested on charges of extortion. The two were allegedly caught during operation. 

According to a statement issued by the Prosecutor General office, both men demanded a total of 15,000AZN from the officials at Sumgayit City Executive power in an exchange for not running a series of stories on their respective websites. The statement claims, both journalists were caught having received 10,000AZN. 

If found guilty, both journalists are facing up to ten years in jail. 

Previously Sadigov was arrested in November 2016 on charges of hooliganism. He was sentenced to two and a half years in jail in January 2017. Sadigov was released in May 2018. 

The same year, Sadigov was sentenced to 30 days in administrative detention for allegedly disobeying police orders. Upon his release, Sadigov said he was innocent and that he was tortured in detention. At the time, the Ministry of the Interior did not comment. 

In November 2018 Sadigov was sentenced once again to a month in prison on charges of disobeying police and/or military officer. 

Sadigov is known for his criticism of the government in his social media posts and statements. Ahead of this recent arrest, Sadigov reportedly shared a story about rape which was refuted by the Prosecutor General.  

editor’s sentence reduced

February 25, the sentence of Anar Mammadov, editor of an online news site criminal.az was reduced from 5 years and 6 months to 5 years and 3 months. The decision was made by the Supreme Court.

Speaking in court, the editor, said allegations against him are bogus. “If you think I have committed a crime, then issue an arrest warrant. If you think writing about what is happening is a crime, then I commit this crime every day”, said Mammadov in court during the hearing.

Speaking to Azadliq Radio, Azerbaijan Service for Radio Free Europe, Mammadov said, he will be appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.

in Azerbaijan 6 journalists remain behind bars

In its newly released report, Committee to Protect Journalists says the number of imprisoned journalists is a record high.

In total 250 journalists remain behind bars according to a newly updated database. 6 of these journalists are from Azerbaijan.

Other findings from CPJ’s annual census include:

  • Ninety-eight percent of journalists jailed worldwide are locals covering their own country. Three of the four journalists with foreign citizenship are imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, and the fourth in China.
  • Twenty of the jailed journalists, or 8%, are female, compared with 13% last year.
  • Politics was the beat most likely to land journalists in jail, followed by human rights and corruption.
  • More than half of those imprisoned were reporters publishing online.