As of April 5, residents across Azerbaijan can only leave their apartments having informed local law enforcement via SMS, a phone call or if in possession of a special certificate of employment.
Azerbaijan remains among countries, which haven’t declared a “state of emergency”. Instead, they are referring to new restrictions as part of the “strict quarantine regime”.
How SMS notification system works
Permission to go outside is granted for the following reasons:
- receiving medical treatment;
- buying medication or groceries;
- visiting a bank or a post office;
- attending a funeral of a close relative
Before leaving, SMS is sent out with a national ID number indicating the reason for going outside. The sender then gets an SMS in response with a code, which can then be used when stopped by the police officers.
There is no further information about the tracking mechanism, its transparency, and whether authorities have developed or relying on a special tracking application to monitor its citizens.
So far, the new restriction has proven to serve the financial interests of the authorities.
Hebib Muntezir, Azerbaijan journalist wrote,
Translation: Yesterday (April 6), a total of 456thousand SMS was sent from 223thousand phone numbers. Of these 284thousand SMS (approximately 62%) were of irrelevant nature. Some received responses immediately, others in half hour, and some in an hour. 6 nationals who have violated the quarantine regime were arrested, 3800 were fined. If we take AZN100 per person that makes AZN380,000 [of collected fines] in just one day. #stayhome
The new fines were introduced on April 3. The fines range from AZN100-200 (USD60-USD120) and include up to a one month administrative arrest.
To understand the potential surveillance implications of this new restriction, AIW spoke to legal expert Emin Abbasov.
“Based on what we know so far, the goal is reportedly to limit freedom of the movement via permission regime relaying users’ requests via mobile devices. However, without knowing whether an SMS can be used to start tracking a mobile device (current assessment indicates that the mechanism in place isn’t used in tracking mobile devices) the notifications are only used to limit freedom of the movement. It is not an application. It is more like an information resource or a system. But the collection of information here is done on compulsory basis, not voluntarily. As a result, this should fall under special legal regime. That is, the issue is very complicated and still unclear. What is clear, however is that when there are limitations on rights and freedoms these limitations fall within the scope of the law on rights and freedoms. What becomes important under these circumstances, is that the emergency decrees issued by the executive authorities that interfere with the rights and freedoms envisaged in the Constitution or International treaties, are required to have a constitutional basis. Another issue is that there are noclear assurances as to whether the information resource (currently in use by the law enforcement) will be destroyed when there is no further need for it. We are yet to see these assurances. And overall, all of the currently adopted decisions are seemingly taken outside of the constitution.
It is indisputable that restrictive measures aimed at combating COVID19 pandemic have a legitimate purpose such as protection of health. However, respect for the rule of law and democratic principles in times of emergency requires that states respect the principle of legality even in an emergency situation. Compliance with the rule of law and democratic principles determines that the restriction of rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution and international treaties may be limited either by laws (adopted by parliament) or by emergency decisions issued as a result of the extraordinary powers vested in the executive branch by the parliament. However, it is not clear that power of the Cabinet of Ministers in Azerbaijan to issue an emergency decrees that are restricting rights and freedoms are carried out in accordance with those principles.”
So far authorities have warned
of further restrictive measures taken if the number of infected cases keeps growing and citizens do not follow through with imposed restrictions.
[Updated] On April 9, Azadliq Radio featured
a story where political activist Izzatli Ruslan and investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova said, requesting permission to leave via SMS, is against the national constitution, article 28 and that together with other representatives of civil society, they intend to take the matter to domestic courts. The right may only be limited in case of the state of emergency, which was not declared in Azerbaijan during the fight against C19.
Izzatli himself was fined in a total amount of 100AZN on the grounds of violating quarantine regimes when he did not provide the permission upon police request. Izzatli was headed to donate blood.
As of May 18, the compulsory requirement has been lifted as Azerbaijan joins the list of countries, slowly opening up.