Several social media users warned, one sentenced to 30 days of administrative detention

A series of new warnings were issued by the Prosecutor General office to social media users in Azerbaijan. In a statement issued by the Prosecutor General’s office, it claims five Azerbaijani citizens received a warning over their social media posts that the prosecutor’s office described as “violating stability, rights, and freedoms and casting a shadow over state’s efforts to strengthen defense capabilities.”

In addition, a citizen named Namig Aliyev was found guilty of violating the state law on Information, Informatisation, and Protection of Information. According to the prosecutor’s office, Aliyev, editor of Yeniavaz.com news website failed to remove a Facebook post about the story published by Yeniavaz.com website that qualified as “information prohibited from sharing.”

But a series of developments including a statement by Yeniavaz.com website editor show that not only did the Prosecutor Office provide false information about Namig Aliyev’s affiliation with Yeniavaz.com website but that the story the prosecutor office wanted removed directly referred to the prosecutor office earlier involvement in committing violence against an opposition activist.

Timeline of events

On December 1, 2021, a group of activists staged a protest in the capital Baku in support of jailed opposition activist Saleh Rustamov. During the protest, scores of activists were detained, including opposition figure Tofig Yagublu, a former political prisoner himself. The violence he faced in the hands of the police was widely reported on social media platforms.

The head of the Media and Public Relations Department of the Interior Ministry’s press service, while having denied any allegations of torture, promised to investigate the case of Yagublu. 

On January 12, the Prosectur Office said it had finalized the invetigation. According to the results, Yagublu was not tortured and that the signs of violence documented and widely reported were inflicted by Yagublu himself. The investigation claimed Yagublu harmed himsefl and that no police officer was involved in violence against Yagublu. 

Yeniavaz.com published three separate articles on the results of the investigation, most recent one on January 18, 2022. 

On January 24, Yeniavaz.com website editor Baylar Majidov, published a Facebook post, with the following text: 

“The prosecutor arrested a man named Namig Aliyev, and [Azerbaijani] media presented him as the director of Yeniavaz.com. Offically, we would like to note that not only do we not have an employee named Namiq Aliyev but he is certainly not the direcotr of Yeniavaz.com.”

Majidov also wrote that their newsroom never received an official request from the General Prosecutor office to remove any information from the website or from the news website’s social media accounts.   

Also on January 24, in another statement issued by the Prosecutor General Office, it announced its decision to sentence social media user Namig Aliyev to 30 days of aministrative detention for sharing information prohibited by law. The statement also said, the office launched administrative proceedings against Azermedia LLC, a legal entity representing the operations of yeniavaz.com on the grounds that the website failed to remove the information prohibited by law. 

On January 25, yeniavaz.com published a story by one of its authors, Anar Garakhanchalli being questioned at the Prosecutor General Office on January 20, 2022. There Garakhanchalli described the conversation he had: 
I was invited to the General Prosecutor office on January 20. After talking to me first about the state, the importance of the prosecutor office for the state and etc I asked them calmly what was the purpose of my invitiation. They told me, it was an article titled “Prosecutor office: ‘Tofig Yagublu’s state was caused as a result of him beating himself up'” that yeniavaz.com published on its website and shared on its Facebook page. So I asked, if there was something wrong about the story, whether it was a lie. They said, the story was correct, but we are concerned about the comments that were written under the post. I said, if the story was ture, if you have no objections then why am I here? I also added that Facebook has billions of users, how can we be held accountable for something written by others? The officer sitting across from me then said, we suspected that these responses would follow, after giving the story a headline like that. I told this this was ludicrous. You confirm yourself that the story is true, you do not object to any of the wording, and yet you are questioning the reporter’s intent?! 
After two hour long visit, Garakhanchalli was let go. 
No further statements were made by yeniavaz.com while the articles in question all remain available online at the time of writing of this post.
AIW previously documented a number of cases where social media users and journalists received warnings, or fines over their onlline posts. 

Journalist questioned over alleged extortion charges

December 14, freelance journalist Nurlan Gahramanli (Libre) reported being questioned at the Baku City Main Police Department over alleged extortion charges. But Gahramanli refutes the claims and believes, the reason for his persecution is his live coverage of Victory Day protests on December 10 that he did over Facebook

“A police officer named Fuad Babayev invited me to the bureau. He told me that I have allegedly blackmailed a man named Tabriz Ahliyarli via ‘Orange Media’ Instagram account in November [the account previously managed by Gahramanli, but which he no longer has access to according to Gahramanli himself]. I told him, I never heard of the name,” the journalist told Meydan TV. Gahramanli does not rule out that the allegation of blackmail and extortion is the work of the Organized Crime department that detained and questioned Gahramanli on October 30. During his detention, his phone was confiscated and the department had access to it. Gahramanli believes it is possible that the department employees established contact with Tabriz Ahliyarli using Gahramanli’s ‘Orange Media’ Instagram account to later blackmail Gahramanli and use it as proof that indeed he has made contact with the alleged victim.

“During the questioning by Fuad Babayev, I was threatened with a criminal case and imprisonment,” Gahramanli told Meydan TV. 

The journalist publicized his visit to the Organized Crime Unit via various online news platforms. The following day the Ministry of the Interior called him and told him his phone was under surveillance and that if I continue my journalist work, persecution will continue and that I will be arrested.”

Meanwhile, the Ministry of the Interior has refuted Gahramanli’s claim that he was beaten during his detention at the Organized Crime Unit. Instead, the ministry said in an official statement that Gahramanli received a warning from the relevant authorities, following a series of complaints by “many citizens” who have informed the Ministry of the Interior, Gahramanli made contacts and befriended Armenians on social platforms, liked and shared their public posts critical of Azerbaijan. “Nurlan Gahramanli was invited to the police following these appeals and after getting his statement, he was given a warning and released. Gahramanli’s claims that he is being prosecuted by the authorities are baseless,” said the statement.   

internet connection down during political rally

Internet connections were reportedly down Saturday, October 19, 2019.

While no official explanation was provided for the reasons of poor connectivity, civil society activists say authorities cut off the internet connection on purpose to prevent political activists and participants of the opposition rally to share and report updates from the unsanctioned political rally organized in the capital of Baku on October 19.

The rally took place in multiple locations across downtown Baku, as a result, users reported connectivity problems throughout the day, across the center of Baku.

According to reports, in addition to mobile internet connection not working, some landlines and wifi connections across the downtown area were reportedly down.

Elesger Ahmedoglu, a media law expert, wrote on his Facebook, the situation was akin to an emergency. “Mobile operators and internet providers caused damage worth in millions by cutting off mobile internet for hours on end, both to the business owners and public. This is a serious violation of rights and anyone affected, must appeal to courts,” wrote law expert.