two website editors, and three social media users questioned over “disseminating forbidden information on the internet” [updated August 8]

[UPDATE] By August 8, four more citizens were called in for questioning over their social media posts about the military operations in Azerbaijan reported Rustam Ismayilbeyli, Farid Huseynov, Elmar Mammadov, Gulay Eyvazova were all invited to the Prosecutor’s Office where all four received a warning. Ismayilbeyli, who is a political activist, wrote on his Facebook, that he was questioned on August 4, specifically over a Facebook post in which he mentions a quote by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. “I was questioned because of the quote by Ataturk, in which he said, ‘so long as the nation’s freedom is not under threat, starting a war is a crime.’ The Prosecutor’s Office concluded that the quote was a threat to national security,” wrote Ismayilbeyli. In a separate case, journalist Sakha

On July 27, according to Turan News Agency reporting, editors of two news sites, Fikret Ibishbeyli (Faramazoglu) and Agil Alishov were questioned by the General Prosecutor’s office. Ibishbeyli is the founder of and Alishov manages the website In addition, according to the agency’s reporting, three social media users were also questioned. One of them, a man named Tofig Shakhmuradov, known as a blogger covering military news was sentenced to 30 days in administrative detention for “posting of information prohibited from dissemination on the telecommunication network, as well as failure to prevent the posting of such information” on Facebook.

Ibishbeyli, was most recently fined in January of this year, on the same charges, “disseminating forbidden information on the internet.” The journalist was fined a total amount of AZN500 [USD295] following a court decision. At the time, the Prosecutor General alleged that an article published on the website caused confusion and fear. 

In May, AIW published a legal analysis on who regulates content on the Internet in Azerbaijan. Based on that analysis, AIW specifically looked at how the Prosecutor’s Office was involved in this process and on what grounds. Currently, two laws regulate what constitutes prohibited information on the internet and the liability for violating these requirements. These are the Law on Information, Informatization, and Protection of Information, which defines the requirements and responsibilities for individuals; and the Law on Media, which defines the (almost) similar and additional requirements and responsibilities for journalists and media.

In addition, the presidential decree dated February 22, 2022, instructed the Ministry of Justice to prepare and submit a draft law on measures for violating information and media legislation on the internet to the government within a month. The law is yet to be adopted and concerns over its text and procedural implementation give ground to worry for a new restrictive law to be adopted not to mention its implications to further stifle free speech online.

Until then, an uptick in recent months, of cases in which social media users have faced punitive measures for their online activism indicates that the Prosecutor General Office has taken on a temporary role of taking measures against activists, journalists and media within the scope of laws on information and media. The prosecutor’s office argues that the official warnings issued by the institution are a precautionary measure for violating existing laws. However as it has been pointed out by the local human rights lawyers and experts, while the prosecutor’s office may be relying on existing bills on Information, Informatization, and Protection of Information as well as the Media, their measures can also be defined within the scope of additional articles of the Criminal Code. Therefore, say experts, the legality of these acts is questionable.

It is still not clear what constitutes “prohibited information”

According to the Law on Information, and Media, while there are general parameters of what prohibited information is, the definitions are rather broad and as such open to interpretation. 

In the case of two editors who received a warning on July 27, the prosecutor’s office claims both websites, published articles that cast a shadow on the country’s Armed Forces. Which articles specifically, however, is not clear. In the case of the social media users, there is no information on what posts specifically were the cause for questioning and subsequent detention of one of the users. In AIW’s legal analysis published in May, we reviewed a number of reported examples where social media users and journalists were warned or received administrative detention over publishing content. In neither of them, there was sufficient evidence to claim violations of the law did indeed occur.

In a Facebook post, media law expert, Alasgar Ahmedoglu wrote if Shahmuradov was sentenced on the grounds of spreading information prohibited by law then the information law enforcement found in violation of the law must be clearly shared as well. “If the prosecutor’s office has found a legal basis for restricting an individual’s freedom of information, it must clearly indicate the date on which the person disseminated that information, what the prohibited information in that disseminated information, and by which specific law the dissemination of that information is prohibited […] A person’s constitutional right cannot be so grossly restricted by merely stating in general terms “prohibited by law,” wrote Ahmedoglu. The expert pointed out, that while applying provisions of existing laws as punitive measures, the General Prosecutor’s Office must also take into account Articles 47 (freedom of thought and speech), and 50 (freedom to lawfully seek, obtain, transmit and disseminate information) of the Constitution of Azerbaijan.   


In Azerbaijan journalist gets 15 days in prison over a Facebook post

Anar Abdulla was sentenced to 15 days in prison over a Facebook post, according to OC Media reporting. But the charges pressed against the journalist accuse Abdulla of hooliganism and disobeying the police – the most common charges used against civic activists in Azerbaijan.

On September 14, Abdulla wrote a short post on his personal Facebook profile accusing the heads of administrative offices, of deceiving President Ilham Aliyev, while the people pay the price for it.

According to OC Media, the journalist was summoned to the police on October 5 for a “preventive conversation” however Abdulla was handcuffed and detained. The hearing that took place on October 6, where the journalist was sentenced to 15 days was closed to the local press. 

Speaking to OC Media, Abdulla’s lawyer, Zibeyda Sadigova, said, her client denied both charges. During the hearing, police alleged that the journalist disobeyed police orders and used profane language against the officers. Police pressed charges against the journalist as a result.  

In addition to hooliganism and disobeying police, politically motivated criminal charges used against civil society representatives include drug possession and illegal business activity. 

blogger handed seven year jail sentence [Updated May 5]

[Update] According to OC Media, Gurbanov was relocated to a prison, which the lawyer says, is in breach of the law. Speaking to OC Media, lawyer Fariz Namazli said, the relocation was illegal as the defendant is awaiting the result of an appeal case. “This [the decision to relocate Gurbanov] was explained to me by the fact that the detention centre was overcrowded and there were a large number of detainees,” Namazli told OC Media. Meanwhile, Gurbanov’s brother said his brother was placed in solitary confinement over an alleged fight. Gurbanov’s lawyer Namazli could not confirm but said he has filed an appeal for further investigation. 

On April 15, blogger, Aslan Gurbanov was sentenced to seven years on charges of calls to overthrow the government and incitement of national, religious, and social hatred, according to Azadliq Radio, Azerbaijan Service for Radio Free Liberty. Gurbanov was arrested on July 14. During his arrest, the blogger suffered from a seizure according to the Justice for Journalists records.

Gurbanov was arrested by the State Security Services and sentenced to four months detention. He was kept at the SSS’s pre-trial detention facility until the trial. 

According to the Azadliq Radio report the blogger was accused of anti-government propaganda on social media platforms and instigated national discrimination – the accusations, Gurbanov refutes. Contrary to the alleged claims that the blogger was disseminating false stories about the discrimination against the Talysh people – an ethnic minority group in Azerbaijan. 

In a statement issued by the Talysh Public Council of Azerbaijan, the group said, Gurbanov promoted Talysh culture and literature, and that accusing the blogger of plotting against the state was unsubstantiated. 

Gurbanov is not the first Talysh activist to be targeted in Azerbaijan. In 2007, the then editor of Talysho Syado (‘Talysh Voice’) newspaper Novruzali Mamedov was arrested initially on charges of ‘resisting law enforcement.’ He was later charged with treason. In his first 15 days in custody, Mamedov was held incommunicado at a [now former] Ministry of National Security detention center, and neither family members nor lawyers were able to visit him. In June 2008, Mamedov was convicted of treason for the ‘distribution of Talysh nationalist ideas and attempts to destroy the foundations of the Azerbaijani state’ and sentenced to 10 years in prison in a closed trial, in absence of his defense attorney, relatives, and the press. The prosecutors alleged that Mamedov received money from Iran to publish the newspaper, but failed to explain or comment on the charges publicly.

Mamedov died in prison in August 2009 as a result of a variety of health problems for which he never received adequate medical care reported Radio Liberty. 

In September 2013, another Talysh journalist, Hilal Mamedov was sentenced to five years in jail on charges of selling drugs, high treason including espionage for Iran, and incitement to national, racial, social, and religious hatred and hostility. Hilal Mamedov took over the editorial of the Talysho Syado after Novruzali Mamedov’s arrest. The journalist was pardoned in 2016 following the Presidential pardon decree. 

state news agency staffer dismissed after Facebook posts

According to online news platform monitoring human rights developments in Azerbaijan, Gozetci, a journalist with the state news agency Azertac, Aygun Aliyeva was dismissed from her job after Facebook posts. Aliyeva’s attempt to take her case to court proved futile. The court ruled in favor of the news agency four days ago. 

Aliyeva told an independent Turan news agency that her issues with the agency began in December 2019, when Azerbaijan held its municipal elections. At the time, Aliyeva wrote a Facebook post, that was critical of the municipalities. “Why would I vote when a municipality cannot even put a rubbish bin?” wrote Aliyeva. She was made to write a statement after this post. Then, in August 2020, she was fired following an alleged note sent to the State news agency from the Presidential Apparatus. 

When Aliyeva decided to take her case to Nasimi District Court, the judge ruled against the journalist. “During the hearing, I was told, I have been writing critical of the government Facebook posts,” Aliyeva told Turan news agency in an interview. The journalist plans to appeal the decision. 

Meanwhile, Azertac management refuted Aliyeva’s claims that she was fired over Facebook posts, instead, the agency said she was unprofessional, submitted her work late, and despite warnings and even a fine, did not change her work ethics. Facebook posts had nothing to do with it, said the state news agency deputy chairman of the board. 

Aliyeva spent twenty-one years at the agency. 

jailed journalist on hunger strike [updated April 5, 2022]

[Update] Polad Aslanov was reportedly beaten by another inmate. The news were shared by Aslanov’s wife, who in protest stood outside the Penitentiary Service holding a sign, that read “End Torture,” reported Meydan TV. Speaking to Meydan TV, Gulmira Aslanova said the head of the penitentiary service confirmed the beating, adding that the prison inmate received punishment for his act. But Aslanova believes this was not an isolated case, and that the beating was premeditated. She demands an end to intimidation against Polad Aslanov. 

[Update] According to Turan News Agency, the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan ruled on February 24, to reduce the original sentence of 16 years handed to the journalist by the Baku Court of Appeal to 13 years in prison, “taking into account extenuating circumstances – the absence of a previous conviction, as well as his marital status, the presence of a minor child.” Aslanov’s lawyer said the defense will be taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

[Update] Meydan TV reports that Aslanov was transferred to a medical facility on January 24 on his 19th day of hunger strike due to health complications. 

[Update] According to OCMedia reporting, imprisoned journalist Aslanov, self-harmed himself on January 11 after his right to a weekly phone call was denied. After the incident, the journalist’s right was granted, Aslanov’s wife, Gulmira Aslanova told the media.  

[Update] On January 7, 2022, Aslanov declared he was going on a hunger strike according to reporting by Meydan TV. In an interview, Aslanov’s wife, Gulmira Aslanova, said, her husband wants the Supreme Court to finally review the appeal that the journalist’s lawyer submitted in February 2021, following the decision by the Baku Court of Appeal that upheld the original sentence that sentenced the journalist to 16 years. 

[Update] According to Meydan TV, who spoke with Aslanov’s wife, the journalist is on a hunger strike in response to pressure against him at the prison facility. “The prison authorities believe that Polad Aslanov is influencing other inmates, and teaching them how to resist and protest. There was an inmate who went on a hunger strike in response to prison management demanding bribes in an exchange for the parcels delivered by family members. He was pressured to stop the hunger strike. He was placed in solitary confinement. As a result, he wrote a forced confession that no one asked him to pay for anything. And that he was punished not because of corruption but because he violated the rules of the prison. For days now the prison has been without water. They [the prison authorities] are implying that the reason there is no water is because of Polad Aslanov,” explained Gulmira Aslanova.  

[Update] On May 18, jailed journalist, Aslanov on hunger strike in protest to ill-treatment by the prison management confirmed Aslanov’s wife.  

[Update] On March 3, Polad Aslanov announced his decision to stop the hunger strike. Although the family members and Ombudsman office confirmed this decision, there is no further information on what caused Aslanov to make this decision.   

[Update] On March 1, jailed editor Polad Aslanov marked 29th day on hunger strike according to Aslanov’s wife. 

[Update] Following a visit by a representative from Red Cross on February 21, Polad Aslanov was placed in a separate cell under medical supervision on February 22, said Aslanov’s wife Gulmira Aslanova. He will remain in quarantine for the next 14 days during which time, no visitors will be allowed explained Aslanova. 

[Update] Aslanov’s wife, Gulmira Aslanova, told Turan News Agency, on February 16, that Aslanov remains on hunger strike.

[Update] On February 15, the Baku Court of Appeal dismissed Aslanov’s appeal, ruling to keep him behind bars.

Polad Aslanov, editor of the Xeberman news website has been on hunger strike since February 1. His wife Gulmira Aslanova told Caucasian Knot that her husband is complaining of kidney and stomach pains as a result of the hunger strike. 

Aslanov was arrested in 2019 and sentenced to 16 years in prison in November 2020 on bogus high treason charges. The State Security Service accused Aslanov of allegedly betraying his country by providing information to Iran. The journalist refutes the charges, saying he was arrested over his reporting on extortion by the members of the State Security Services of Azerbaijan. 

The journalist was additionally charged with Article 134 (threat to kill) of the Criminal Code. However, this accusation was dropped in court. 

Aslanov is the second journalist to have gone on a hunger strike in Azerbaijan. In addition to Aslanov, jailed journalist Afgan Sadigov marked the 95th day of the hunger strike on February 7.  This is Aslanov’s third hunger strike since his imprisonment. 

The Reporters Without Borders, issued a statement on February 9, calling on the Azerbaijani authorities to provide urgent medical assistance to Polad Aslanov.

At present, there are three journalists behind bars in Azerbaijan. They are Polad Aslanov, Afgan Sadigov,  and Elchin Ismayilli (seven-year sentence on extortion charges, editor and founder of news website Kend). 

Correction: Previous version of the article said four journalists were currently behind bars. But Ikram Rahimov editor of the news website Realliq and who was sentenced three-year sentence on extortion charges was released in September 2020.