editor facing slander and insult charges

In Azerbaijan, editor of an online news website sozcu.az, Elshan Alisoy is facing slander and insult charges and a hefty fine. The charges leveled against the editor are related to the claims, raised by the Vice President of SOCAR [Azerbaijan State Oil Company] Mikayil Ismayilov. 

The vice president’s demands include a 100,000 AZN compensation [58.8 thousandUSD] for moral damage, charges of slander [Article 147], and insult [Article 148] of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan and closed-door hearing, over an article, Alisoy shared on Facebook. 

On June 22, a preparatory meeting was held in the Agsu District Court according to reporting by Turan News Agency. The agency reports that the hearing on the merits is scheduled for June 25. 

The editor’s lawyer, Nemat Karimli, says the acceptance of the claim into proceedings is unlawful. “According to Article 60 of the Law on Media, a person who reprints [reshares] an article published in another media is not responsible for the content.”

Titled, “The dark empire of Mikayil Ismayilov” the original article, that the blogger shared on his Facebook, was originally published by an online platform azadsoz.com [free word] on May 18, alleging that Mikayil Ismayilov oversees the management of the entire financial process in SOCAR’s covert operations.

Reposting the article, Elshan Alisoy, wrote the following comment, “Dear God, why they need all this wealth… Mikail Ismayilov is one of the 12 vice presidents of SOCAR. I call this, gluttony and barbarity.”  

The hearing in the case is scheduled for June 25. 

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.

arqument.az remains blocked

On December 24, 2019, the administrative-economic court in Baku rejected the claim by arqument.az against Transportation, Communication and High Technologies ministry. Arqument.az took the ministry to court following its decision to block arqument.az inside the country.

The website’s editor Shamshad Agayev intends to appeal the decision.

Arqument.az was blocked on August 8, 2018, following a decision issued by Sabail District Court. A few days later, Baku Court of Appeal annulled district court’s decision.

But arqument.az was blocked once again in April 2019 after publishing coverage of protests in Jalilabad district. The website was also subject to cyber attacks after being blocked.