instagram user from Azerbaijan explicitly targets women online – will Facebook and Google take notice?

Violence and harassment against women in Azerbaijan have reached a new level when a user named [@] panturaloriginal mocked women and the way they choose to dress during a live feed via his Instagram account. While the video is no longer available on the user’s Instagram account Shafi Shafiyev, an activist from Azerbaijan shared one part of the video via his Twitter:

Here is a brief translation of what user panturaloriginal is saying in the video: “There are some women who encourage men to slap them from behind when they open their body parts. You just want to slap them. And if they turn around and ask why I would tell them ‘are you out of your mind?! You have left your body parts exposed and I am slapping them. Are you messing with me?!’ Why do you leave your parts exposed? If they are, then I will touch them. I enjoy it. You are playing with my natural instinct.  Do I have to walk around like a blind man [covering his eyes with his hands] because of you? Then dress properly. Cover your body parts. Why is it so important for you to show it? If you are showing it, then I will slap you. I enjoy it. It turns me on. This is how I have been made. It is a natural sensation. Why do I have to control myself?! You have left your body parts exposed, so I am going to slap it like that.”

On July 1, 2021, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Google made commitments to tackle the abuse of women on their platforms as more than 200 women signed a letter calling for tech companies to “prioritize the safety of women.” 

Among their commitments announced at the UN Generation Equality Forum in Paris are: 

Build better ways for women to curate their safety online by:

  • Offering more granular settings (e.g. who can see, share, comment or reply to posts)
  • Using more simple and accessible language throughout the user experience
  • Providing easy navigation and access to safety tools
  • Reducing the burden on women by proactively reducing the amount of abuse they see

Implement improvements to reporting systems by:

  • Offering users the ability to track and manage their reports
  • Enabling greater capacity to address context and/or language
  • Providing more policy and product guidance when reporting abuse
  • Establish additional ways for women to access help and support during the reporting process

The user has two Instagram accounts [panturallive] and [panturaloriginal] and a youtube channel [pantural]. The account from which the live feed was done, has over 68k followers. Both Instagram accounts are now private. 

Amnesty International statement calls to stop gender-based reprisals in Azerbaijan

On May 12, Amnesty International released a statement calling to stop gender-based reprisals in Azerbaijan. 

“Women human rights defenders have faced threats, coercion, violations of their right to privacy and smear campaigns that are gender-specific and target them as women. This type of gender-based violence and discrimination aims to silence their critical voices and discredit their work. It also seeks to punish them for speaking out as women,” reads the statement. 

The statement documents the recent attacks and harassment women activists have faced for their work, outspokenness, or for simply being family members of government critics. 

AIW reported on these attacks previously:

February 26, 2021 – Activist’s personal messages leaked after hacking [update March 9];

March 9, 2021 – Targeted harassment via telegram channels and hacked Facebook accounts [updated March 15];

March 16, 2021 – Coordinated digital attacks against Feminist movement members and LGBT rights activists

March 25, 2021 – Exiled blogger continues to receive threats [updated March 31];

March 28, 2021 – Facebook page, advertising telegram channel, targeting a woman activist [update March 30];

April 14, 2021 – Activists trolled for exposing child abuse in Azerbaijan

The report concludes that:

Azerbaijan has an obligation under international human rights law to take all appropriate measures to prevent gender-based violence and other human rights violations against women, including violations of their right to privacy. The Azerbaijani authorities must conduct a prompt, impartial and effective investigation into each and every reported incident of such violence, as well as of instances of reported discrimination or harassment of women, in order to identify and bring to justice in fair proceedings anyone reasonably suspected of being culpable or complicit in such acts, whether they are private individuals or members of security services or other state officials. Women who have suffered these violations should be provided with effective remedies and reparations including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation and guarantees of non-repetition. Azerbaijan must ensure that every person’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are respected and that women are able to fully enjoy these rights, including in the form of women’s marches.

activists trolled for exposing child abuse in Azerbaijan

Vafa Nagi, an activist who recently exposed systemic abuse of young girls in one region of Azerbaijan has herself become a target of harassment as a result. 

Writing about the harassment on her Facebook account, Nagi explained that ever since she shared the story of a 14-year-old  girl, a resident of a small village subject to sexual abuse and the involvement of one police officer in this abuse, Nagi and her family members have faced targeting from the officer and his family members.  

On Facebook Nagi has been targeted with slurs by users related to the police officer.

In the meantime, according to this BBC Azerbaijan service story, the victim was relocated to a shelter in the capital Baku, where she is receiving psychological help. 

In their statement issued earlier, the Ministry of the Interior said they are investigating the case but so far, have not taken any measures against the police officer involved. 

***

Vafa Nagi is an elected member of the local municipality of the region where this abuse has taken place. Recently Nagi was targeted in March of this year after taking part in a women’s march organized to mark International Women’s Day in Baku. 

Facebook page, advertising telegram channel, targeting a woman activist [update March 30]

A page on Facebook took it upon itself to target yet another woman in Azerbaijan. This time, the target is the daughter of politician Jamil Hasanli, Gunel Hasanli. Not only that, but the page also is advertising a telegram channel, where they claim an intimate video of Ms. Hasanli is available. 

Another page, previously engaged in targeting of activists, shared not one but two posts, targeting Ms. Hasanli, with a similar content, although by the time AIW received the link to the post it was removed. 

Ms. Hasanli was targeted before when in 2015 she was accused of allegedly hitting a woman whilst driving. The court dismissed her appeal and sentenced Ms. Hasanli to 1.5 years imprisonment. Speaking to Turan News Agency at the time Jamil Hasanil said the accident and the charges were bogus. 

In 2018, Jamil Hasanli’s Facebook page was targeted.

Hasanli’s daughter is the latest victim in targeted online harassment. In recent weeks, scores of women activists were targeted through hacking of social media accounts, leaking of intimate videos and photographs through Facebook pages and Telegram Channels. 

On March 29, Hasanli wrote on his Facebook about the most recent attack against his daughter. He held president Ilham Aliyev and the Security Service directly accountable for the recent targeting. “The depravity is poking around other people’s intimate lives, mobilizing the state’s security services, and using it as a tool of political blackmail,” wrote Hasanli.

*On March 30, AIW received confirmation that both posts were removed.

targeted harassment via telegram channels and hacked Facebook accounts [updated March 15]

[Updated] The targeting of women on telegram channels continues. On March 15, AIW was informed that the new target is the girlfriend of student activist Rustam Ismayilbeyli. Ismayilbeyli was targeted in September 2020 when a fake profile that belonged to the state security services informed Ismayilbeyli that personal information including intimate photos of Ismayilbeyli and his girlfriend will be sent to his friends and acquaintances unless he steps down from being an organizer of an upcoming rally and starts collaborating with them. Ismayilbeyli told AIW that those photos are now being circulated on the same telegram channels that earlier targeted journalist Fatima Movlamli, activists Gulnara Mehdiyeva and Narmin Shahmarzade.  

On March 14, Hikmat Hajiyev, assistant to President Ilham Aliyev said the local law enforcement is investigating the complaint by the activist Narmin Shahmarzade on the invasion of her privacy.

On March 13, activist, Vafa Nagi reported about her Facebook profile being compromised. Nagi, challenged local municipal authorities when she decided to run for the election in 2019 and won. For the first time, in Azerbaijan’s history of municipal elections [first municipal elections were held in December 1999] a representative of the feminist movement (or any activist) was elected. But her victory came at a cost. After attending one of the first meetings in her new role, Nagi realized there were inaccuracies in financial reports. When she asked that the head of the local municipality shared the full report she became a problem. This problem, needed a solution and so in an attempt to humiliate Nagi in her village, someone started posting her pictures from her Instagram across the village. There she was enjoying the sun on the beach, or elsewhere, smiling, looking happy. But that is not how the village community interpreted these photos. Azerbaijan has a complicated relationship with women’s rights, as evidence suggests especially from a recent wave of attacks against feminists who organized and attended the March 8th protest in the capital Baku. When the “picture campaign” ended with a fiasco, more serious measures were taken against Nagi. She was accused of defamation by an official and an employee of the rural house of culture. The two men claimed Nagi’s Facebook posts had damaged their business reputation. Although charges were dropped, the municipality did not stop there. The long battle ended when Nagi’s status as elected municipal official was taken from her. According to OC Media Nagi was deprived of her position in a vote by the municipal council on 20 August 2020, at the time, when she was receiving medical treatment abroad. Finally, Nagi was among the women who participated in a protest organized on March 8, 2021.

In addition, journalist Aysel Umudova, wrote on her Facebook profile, that police been visiting homes of all women identified during the rally including hers, except at the wrong address.

Another women’s rights activist targeted was Rabiyya Mammadova. After her interview with VoA Azerbaijan Service aired on March 13, she became a target of trolls accusing Mammadova of lying. In her interview, Mammadova explained how plainclothed officers stopped the taxi she was in, on her way to meet other women activists. The officer grabbed her by her throat and started suffocating her. She also received several blows to her head. As a result, she lost partial hearing in her right ear and her arm broken previously by the police was also injured. Mammadova was also among independent candidates who ran for municipal elections in 2019. But due to election fraud, she did not win and in January 2020 she was accused of defamation while the evidence of fraud Mammadova documented was dismissed. On the day of the election, she spotted a group of women, who were engaged in carousel voting, a common vote-rigging tactic. Mammadova called the group of women dishonest, which angered one of the women who demanded an apology and 1000AZN [600USD] in compensation. Her complaint was rejected in a court hearing. But this did not stop Mammadova from running in the snap parliamentary election in February 2020. She did not win. Nor did many of the independent candidates who ran for the national assembly. Defiant, Mammadova stood outside the Central Election Committee protesting election fraud. Other candidates joined Mammadova outside the CEC. By the evening, the police cordoned off the protesters and used violence to disperse the crowd. During the police intervention, scores of candidates, activists, and journalists were injured. Mammadova had her arm broken. Police denied anyone was injured despite reports and evidence.       

***

In recent days, at least three telegram channels were reported for sharing profane content targeting women in Azerbaijan. One channel called “Wretched men club” shared sensitive videos of journalist Fatima Movlamli, and exiled dissident blogger Mahammad Mirzali’s sister. Another group called “Expose bad-mannered girls” has targeted other women activists. A third one, targeted specifically one woman whose Facebook account was hacked shortly after the International Women’s Day march in Baku. 

In the past, other women journalists and activists were targeted in an online harassment campaign. 

Most recently activist Gulnara Mehdiyeva was targeted in a video shared via Facebook, containing a series of leaked private audio messages, that were stolen when Mehdiyeva’s social media accounts and emails were hacked last year

On March 9, Activist Narmin Shahmarzade’s Facebook profile was hacked, her name changed alluding to her interference with people’s private lives. The hackers flooded her Facebook feed with private messages, some of which were fake, and shared nude photographs of her, including at least one edited photo and audio. Several hours later, a Telegram channel was set up, sharing Shahmarzade’s intimate photos. In an interview with VoA Azerbaijan service, Shahmarzade said, “When my account was hacked, video footage and other posts with criticism of the ruling government were deleted. Then, my personal messages on Facebook messenger were compromised. Some of them were shared after being edited and taken out of context. My personal phone number was exposed and as a result, I received numerous calls and messages of threatening nature.” Shahmarzade said, she has informed the Ministry of the Interior and the State Security Services and describes what happened to her, a crime and that she will be going to court. Shahmarzade also pointed out to AIW that the hacker who compromised her Facebook profile is likely the same person or member of the same group that targeted activist Gulnara Mehdiyeva last year because at least one of the audio that was shared via Shahmarzade’s hacked Facebook account targeting her, does not even belong to the activist and that she never had access to. Contrary, it was among material hijacked from Gulnara Mehdiyeva. 

Among the women targeted, is also dissident blogger Mahammad Mirzali’s sister. Mirzali told AIW that the intimate video of his sister was leaked to harm him. “On February 15 my family members and I received several messages from a US number threatening me to stop my work. Otherwise, they told me they would release the videos of my sister. They told me they were not joking. They leaked the video on March 5. Later they shared the video on telegram channels. The same video was also sent to our relatives,” explained Mirzali. Mirzali suspects the authorities are behind this nasty campaign against his family. On March 14, Mirzali was reportedly stabbed by a group of unknown men. Mirzali is currently at the hospital. 

In September 2020, activist Rustam Ismayilbeyli was intimidated by someone who presented himself as an employee of state security that unless Ismayilbeyli did not stop his activism, intimate pictures of his girlfriend would be leaked online. 

In 2019, journalist Sevinc Osmangizi was the target of a smear campaign that variously accused her of being a double agent and working as a spy selling government secrets. 

The same year, journalist Fatima Movlamli was once again targeted with a fake Facebook page created under her name, sharing intimate photos and videos of her in her bed

In 2012, journalist Khadija Ismayilova was targeted in a similar campaign after receiving a package containing photos and videos of intimate nature all taken at her apartment. 

In 2010, at least two male journalists were targeted with sex tapes that were leaked and aired on prime-time television.

So far, only one journalist secured legal victory – Khadija Ismayilova. In January 2019, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the government of Azerbaijan must compensate Ismayilova for its failure to investigate attempts to blackmail her.

In all of the incidents mentioned here, the targets voiced their suspicion of the government involvement behind these attacks. Meanwhile, the authorities either refute or remain silent about these allegations.

Finally, according to the definitions of online harassment as noted in this PEN America manual on online abuse in the last few days, it is safe to say the following forms of harassment have been documented:

Cross-Platform Harassment:  coordinated and deliberately deployed across multiple social media and communications platforms, taking advantage of the fact that most platforms only moderate content on their own sites;

Dogpiling (cyber-mob attacks): When a large group of abusers collectively attacks a target through a barrage of threats, slurs, insults, and other abusive tactics.

  • Outrage/Shame Mobs: A form of mob justice focused on publicly exposing, humiliating, and punishing a target, often for expressing opinions on politically charged topics or ideas the outrage mob disagrees with and/or has taken out of context in order to promote a particular agenda. 

Cyberstalking: In a legal context, “cyberstalking” is the prolonged and repeated use of abusive behaviors online (a “course of conduct”) intended “to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate” a target.

Dog Whistling: Using words or symbols with a double (or coded) meaning that is abusive or harmful, sometimes to signal a group of online abusers to attack a specific target.

Doxxing: The publishing of sensitive personal information online—including home address, email, phone number, social security number, photos, etc.—to harass, intimidate, extort, stalk, or steal the identity of a target.

Hacking: The unauthorized intrusion into a device or network, hacking is often carried out with the intention to attack, harm, or incriminate another individual by stealing their data, violating their privacy, or infecting their devices with viruses. When hacking is used to perform illegal activities or intimidate a target, it is a cybercrime.

Nonconsensual intimate images (aka revenge port):  Nonconsensual pornography is “the distribution of private, sexually-explicit images [or videos] of individuals without their consent”.

Online Sexual Harassment (aka, Cybersexual Abuse, Gender-Based Harassment):  

Sextortion: A form of black mail in which an abuser threatens “to expose a nude or sexually explicit image in order to get a person to do something.” 

Unsolicited Pornography: Sending sexually explicit or violent images and videos to a target.

Unwanted Sexualization: Sending “unwelcome sexual requests, comments and content” to a target.

peace activists targeted online [updated]

Since the war over Nagorno Karabakh began on September 27, scores of peace activists in Azerbaijan have been targeted both online and offline for their views. From public Facebook posts and pages targeting the activists, with threats of violence and physical harm, calls for public shaming and punishment, to questioning at Security Services, this has no doubt been one of the harshest, collective, online public harassment campaigns observed until now in Azerbaijan.

On September 30, an anti-war statement signed by a group of Azerbaijani leftists was published online. Another anti-war statement was published shortly after by an online regional platform Caucasus Talks. In a matter of days, many Azerbaijani activists who signed the statements began receiving online threats, harassment, and deliberate targeting.

A Facebook page called Pinochet Airlines [which was successfully removed after reporting the page to Facebook] was sharing pictures of Azerbaijani signatories, using foul language, humiliating, and calling for public action against them. After the page was taken down, a user, who claimed to allegedly run the page, said in a Facebook post the page lived up to its purpose and although it was taken down, more was yet to come.

Caucasus Talks platform was smeared with allegations to have links to the Armenian Prime Minister’s wife. These allegations were refuted by the platform in a series of tweets:

On Twitter, some users called for the execution of #nowar activists.

In addition to online targeting, some of the activists were called into questioning at State Security Services over their views shared online on several occasions. Most recently, Latif Mammadov was called for questioning on November 16 where he was threatened for his online activities. “One of them asked me a question and when he didn’t like my answer he grabbed me by the collar and just started shaking me vigorously, I pushed him on his shoulder so he let me go, but then his colleague got up and they pushed me down on the chair […] They said they will kill me and my parents if I don’t stop [my online activity],” Mammadov told OC Media in an interview. 

Online and offline harassments and targeting are common in Azerbaijan, especially when targeting high profile political activists and figures. However, this time, deliberate, coordinated targeting against a handful of peace activists and no war advocates, is clearly linked to the nationalist fervor stemming from the on-going fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan, that ended on November 10 with a deal brokered by Russia. 

government in Azerbaijan threatens activists with interpol, again [update September 14]

On September 8, seven Azerbaijani dissidents who now live in various cities across Europe were targeted by the government of Azerbaijan. In addition to being formally charged with a crime in their absence and arrest warrants issued, the authorities have vowed to ask Interpol for their extradition.

The story goes back to last year when an Azerbaijani blogger, Elvin Isayev was extradited to Azerbaijan from Ukraine. Isayev lived in Russia since 1998 and was known for his critical views of the government. He acquired Russian citizenship in 2001. 19 years later, a court in St. Petersburg ruled to strip him of Russian citizenship and expel him. The following month Isayev moved to Ukraine, after an interim measure of the European Court of Human Rights called “Rule 39” suspended his deportation. Three months later he went missing only to appear in Azerbaijan where the Azerbaijan State Migration Service claimed Isayev was deported, a statement that was later refuted by Ukraine’s State Migration Service which said it never ordered Isayev’s deportation.

Few days after his “arrival” in Azerbaijan, Isayev was charged with calling for mass riots and public incitement against the ruling government. Now, the Prosecutor General office is seeking the deportation of seven men accusing them of the same crimes.

Ordukhan Babirov, Gurban Mammadov, Orkhan Agayev, Rafel Piriyev, Ali Hasanaliyev, Tural Sadigli, and Suleyman Suleymanli have been now charged in their absence. Many of these men are known for their online media activism, managing popular opposition YouTube channels, and for organizing street protests across European capitals in support of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, highlighting human rights violations and other advocacy engagements. One of the targeted men, popular activist, Ordukhan Babirov (known as Ordukhan Temirkhan Babirov) wrote in a Facebook post “[…] how many more times are they are going to give my name to Interpol”.

In an interview with OC-Media Tural Sadigli, activist and editor of Azad Soz [Free Speech] online news platform, said he faced a criminal case in 2019. “I was slighly surprised. They can’t reach us, they cannot stop our activities, so they use such forms of pressure,” Sadigli told OC Media.  

This is not the first time, the government in Azerbaijan is resorting to Interpol. But according to Interpol, “[it] cannot compel the law enforcement authorities in any country to arrest someone who is the subject of a Red Notice. Each member country decides what legal value it gives to a Red Notice and the authority of their law enforcement officers to make arrests.

The persecution against activists at home and abroad is on-going. For years, the ruling Baku tried silencing dissident voices both inside the country through threats, intimidation, and arrests and abroad through public shaming campaigns, and targeting of remaining family members. 

A week ago, a court in Baku sentenced veteran dissident Tofig Yagublu to four years and three months in jail on bogus charges. A campaign calling for his freedom #FreeTofigYagublu and #TofiqYaqubluyaAzadliq was launched and many of the targeted activists mentioned in this story have been rallying behind the campaign. Similarly, a youth activist who is among the organizers of the September 9 rally in support of Yagublu, was also targeted online and blackmailed. 

Opposition activist, Instagram account hacked [updated]

May 9, Azerbaijani politician, Gultekin Hajibeyli’s Instagram account hacked and taken down. Instead, a fake profile impersonating Hajibeyli was set up, with her private mobile phone number shared publicly in the profile description. Hajibeyli, was targeted online previously.

Such attacks are common in Azerbaijan, where opposition politicians and independent activists are targeted online. Account “break-ins”, impersonations, blackmailing posts, content takedown requests on YouTube for alleged copyright violations are among some of the popular harassment tactics in practice.

Unlawfully obtained personal information of intimate nature, including photos, videos, and email exchanges are commonly used to target women activists. A most recent example is an online harassment campaign launched against political activist and former political prisoner Ilkin Rustamzade’s wife, Amina Rustamzade. Leaked personal pictures were shared on Facebook and Instagram by various accounts.

On May 12, the account impersonating Hajibeyli was successfully removed from Instagram.

On May 13, a new fake Instagram profile was created.

political activist’s partner harassed online [Last update June 17]

June 17, Amina Rustamzade, wife of activist Ilkin Rustmazade attempted suicide after numerous posts violating her right to privacy [see below]. Rustamzade overdosed herself with sleeping pills. She was taken immediately to a clinical center where doctors were able to stabilize her condition. While her condition is stable, the perpetrator behind the harassment against Amina remains at large. Ilkin Rustamzade wrote on his Facebook, that his wife, received yet another message from the same user with the message “If Ilkin is not silent, then what happened earlier will happen again.”

***

Ilkin Rustamzade is a former political prisoner and activist who spent six years in jail on bogus charges. He was arrested in May 2013 on alleged hooliganism charges. Additional charges – inciting violence and organizing mass disorder in connection with a peaceful protest in 2013 – were added during his pre-trial detention period. Rustamzade was sentenced to eight years in jail in 2014. He was recognized “prisoner of conscience” by International rights watchdog Amnesty International.

Authorities released Rustamzade in March 2019 following a presidential pardon decree. But threats and harassment against him continue.

On April 7, Rustamzade was contacted by this profile on Facebook. The person behind the profile introduced himself as an officer working for the Special Security Services in Azerbaijan. In the brief exchange this person had with Rustamzade, he kept removing all of the messages after they were sent. As a result, there are few screenshots that actually contain any evidence of this person threatening Rustamzade.

In one message, the user tells Rustamzade to stop the campaign the activist started on change.org. The campaign calls on the Azerbaijan authorities to allocate funds for families who have been affected by the global pandemic that has also reached Azerbaijan. When Rustamzade refused to remove the campaign, that is when the person threatened Rustamzade to humiliate him and his family.

Shortly after, a Facebook page (that has now been successfully removed) was set up, with intimate pictures of Rustamzade’s wife Amina Rustamzade and posts using humiliating language.

On April 8, a new Facebook page was set up with similar content. There is also, an Instagram post, that was shared by this account on the social media platform. In addition, his fiance’s profile appears to have been added to an escort website with personal information including phone numbers.

Also on April 8, Rustamzade’s father, Bakir Khalilov was taken by the police when they could not locate Ilkin Rustamzade at his family home. When Rustamzade called to speak with his father, the police interrupted the conversation, took the phone away from the father and told Rustamzade unless he comes to the station, his father will be arrested. When police showed up at his father’s house, they claimed Rustamzade violated quarantine laws by leaving the house without informing the law enforcement. This is a new regulation that was introduced on April 5. Rustamzade moved out on April 2. Three days before the regulation was set in place.

Meanwhile, Rustamzade’s father falls into a threatened group category due to his age and health condition. He just recently had heart surgery.

Although his father has been released since then, Rustamzade is concerned both his father, and himself could be arrested and that threats against his family will continue.

Journalist Khadija Ismayilova wrote her on Facebook that “Police clearly is eager to use these SMS restrictions to harass activists.”