police “visits” writer’s home during his live stream

Writer Keramet Boyukchol was briefly taken to the police for questioning after an alleged complaint to the police made by his neighbors. Police claimed neighbors complained he was making too much noise. 

Boyukchol is known for his criticism of the authorities on social media and in the numerous interviews, he has done with the media. 

The day he was taken in for questioning, Boyukchol was live on Facebook, raising yet again, the issue of economic difficulties faced by the general public in the country. He was still streaming live when the doorbell rang and he got up to open the door. Seeing the police the writer asked what was the purpose of their visit, to which one of the officers responded, saying his neighbors complained he was making too much noise. 

At some point, one of the officers entered the flat, without Boyukcol’s permission and in the absence of an arrest warrant and stopped Boyukchol from filming the scene. 

According to Boyukchol’s father, in an interview with Azadliq Radio, his son was taken to the police and released the next day without any charges. 

Boyukchol was also targeted online. In June, his Facebook account was compromised. All of his posts (over the last ten years) were deleted. 

hacking alert: activists and journalists targeted online [ongoing, last update September 10]

Several activists and journalists had their Facebook accounts compromised in recent weeks in Azerbaijan. 

At the end of June, a veteran human rights lawyer, Intigam Aliyev, reported a break-in attempt into his Facebook profile. A few days later, an opposition group D18 reported their Facebook page was compromised. On July 2, journalist Aysel Umudova and activist Rustam Ismayilbeyli received messages from the Facebook platform informing them their passwords were reset. This happened despite the fact, that both users had 2FA enabled on their accounts. On July 6, journalist Fatima Movlamli’s Facebook profile was compromised. Yet again, despite 2FA and secure email service, the account was taken over by unknown users. Finally, on July 14, multiple social media users reported receiving password reset messages even though no such requests were made by the users.  

Targeting social media profiles, and pages, are common in Azerbaijan. In recent years, hacking of prominent accounts has led to mass content removal, loss of followers, and subscribers. On YouTube, account owners of popular channels report their videos are taken down by the platform due to copyright violation reports, have received strikes and in some cases, their accounts were deactivated by the platform. And yet, further investigations, indicate, that these copyright violations are indeed submitted by fake accounts and that the actual cause of the strike is nothing but a fluke.

This type of deliberate targeting limits the work of targeted account owners, whether they are human rights defenders, journalists, media platforms, or political activists. Responding to these digital attacks takes time, it also requires having the right contacts at platforms directly or vis-a-vis third parties. In addition, once the account is compromised the account owner, no longer has access to their platform for outreach, unable to share their work/updates, and face the reality of losing their audience.  

While there is some evidence pointing the attacks originate from the government-affiliated institutions, it’s been virtually impossible to prevent them from happening and keep the online community safe.

On September 10, Nigar Hezi, a political activist, said there was an attempt to compromise her Facebook account.  

member of an opposition party fined over social media post [Last update July 9]

July 6, Gachay Gafarov, member of the opposition party Popular Front, sentenced to 15 days in administrative detention according to Azadliq Radio. Gafarov is accused of disobeying police. According to party headquarters, Gafarov was detained over his social media post critical of the police that Gafarov posted on the day of the police. 

July 5, member of an opposition party Popular Front, Alikhan Rajabli, detained over social media posts say party headquarters. Rajabli was detained on July 4, in Masalli region by the local police. According to family members, Rajabli was taken from his home and taken to the police.

June 29, member of an opposition party Musavat, Jeyhun Mammadli was fined in a total amount of 200AZN. Mammadli was accused of disobeying police. However, party members believe Mammadli was fined over his posts and comments often critical of the authorities on social media. 

Mammadli was taken from his home on June 27  to the Zardab Regional Police department. At the station, police prepared a protocol, where Mammadli was accused of disobeying police according to Article 535.1 of Administrative Offenses. He was let go until the court hearing.

On June 29, Zardab Regional Court found Mammadli guilty and fined him in a total amount of 200AZN [approximately 120USD].

political activist detained over social media post

June 27, member of an opposition party Popular Front, Faig Rashidov was sentenced to ten days in administrative detention on charges of violating the Code of Administrative Offenses Article 388.1 (placing online or on information/communication networks information otherwise banned).  

Rashidov was previously subject to pressure for his activism and political views.

Popular Front members have been regularly persecuted in recent months. Currently, at least 10 party members are behind bars. All are accused of various crimes, none however are legitimate, claim the party headquarters. 

arqument.az Facebook page hacked

June 24, editor of an online news platform arqument.az Shamshad Agha reports that the platform’s Facebook page was hacked. 

The damage was significant Agha told AIW. Around 11,000 page likes were deleted as well as some 12,000 followers. All of the platform’s posts until March were also removed. 

The admins were able to restore access to the page since the attack.

Arqument.az website was blocked in August 2018, following a decision issued by Sabail District Court. A few days later, Baku Court of Appeal annulled district court’s decision. However, the website was blocked once again in April 2019 by the Ministry of Communication, Transportation and High Technologies after publishing the story about protests in Jalilabad district. This time, the blocking took place without a court order.

According to the editor, he was informed that unless he removes the reported story, the blocking will remain in place. However, the news platform refused and instead filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Communication, Transportation and High Technologies. After that, the blocking was lifted by the Ministry while the platform’s lawsuit continues.

The website was also subject to cyber attacks following blocking.

man arrested over social media posts

A resident of a village in Goychay administrative district, Ahliman Aliyev was sentenced to 15 days in administrative detention over his social media posts. In an interview with Meydan TV, Aliyev said he was arrested for criticizing the head of the administrative district Mehdi Salimzade online. 

While in detention, he was beaten and humiliated. After his release, he was threatened by the Deputy Police Chief Fakhri Alsanov.  

Aliyev said he was written countless letters to the president, about the head of the administrative district. When he did not hear back, he took his complaints online.

Aliyev was accused of disobeying the police. 

Detentions over social media comments and posts are not uncommon in Azerbaijan. Just this month, a number of social media users were detained over their posts on social media platforms, criticizing the police and the fake flashmob that was organized in the capital of Baku in support of the Azerbaijani police.  

activist’s treatment at the psychiatric clinic extended

June 3, an activist who criticized the authorities for the lack of assistance to low-income families on social media was confined to a treatment at a psychiatric clinic.

Agil Humbatov, an activist with the Popular Front opposition party was first detained in March. After being questioned at the police, he was sent to a psychiatric clinic where he was held for two days and then let go. At the time, the local court did not rule for Humbatov’s required treatment. But the activist was detained the following day based on the appeal submitted to the issuing court by the head doctor. This time court ruled in favor of compulsory treatment. 

According to local reports, on June 2, the hospital decided to extend Humbatov’s say by another month. 

teacher arrested over social media posts

On May 22, a high school teacher Jalil Zabidov was arrested and sentenced to five months in prison on charges of hooliganism according to reports. Zabidov was also a member of D18, an opposition movement.

According to his family members, and members of the D18 movement, Zabidov often shared stories and news of corruption in his village.

In October 2019 D18 was targeted online. Its Facebook page was hacked and the group lost thousands of followers. According to one of the movement’s founders, Ruslan Izzetli, the attack was targeted and was the result of a recent Facebook post the group shared on their page, calling on the current Minister of Internal Affairs, Vilayet Eyvazov’s resignation. 

political activist targeted online

For almost a month now, political activist, Bakhtiyar Hajiyev has been the target of multiple forms of online attacks. In an interview with AIW, Hajiyev said, from being impersonated online and fake social media accounts in his name, calling for protests, to on-going attempts to break into his social media accounts, it is a comprehensive list, the attacks are well-coordinated and they originate from the law enforcement agency. 

Hajiyev explains that he can get, at least ten passwords reset requests a day for messaging services like Whatsapp, his social media accounts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as well as applications like Paypal and Uber. “I have been getting password reset requests on platforms and accounts I never visited before or never set up. And in addition to all the social media accounts, there is the e-government portals that too inform me, of password reset requests.” 

In one screenshot Hajiyev shared with AIW, there is evidence of countless incoming missed calls from numbers registered to the US and UK. These happen during certain hours of the day explains Hajiyev. Similar phone calls have been reported by other political activists too.   

“I also receive calls from people who have been humiliated and called names online and then given my mobile number by the perpetrators, telling them to call me, since it is my doing. So I end up explaining to people that it was not me and that I would never do anything like this to anyone,” explained Hajiyev. 

The offensive language is also being used against government officials and the ruling family explains Hajiyev. 

Hajiyev believes it is his activism and outspokenness online that triggers these attacks. Whenever he has posted something that is clear evidence of an act of corruption, or a cover-up of government dealings, has been subject to similar forms of attacks and harassment. Taking into account, that it is not just him, but many other activists who are facing similar attacks, the intensity and the wide range of the attacks are indicative that they are coordinated and originate from one source – the law enforcement. 

“These things are being done, in order to avoid any sort of political mobilizing once the quarantine period is over,” Hajiyev told Azadliq Radio in an interview on May 24.

“I have informed the State Security Service about these attacks and I have shared all the necessary information. And although I have been promised an investigation and answers, I am yet to see anything,” Hajiyev told to AIW.  Hajiyev also told AIW that his name appears in message exchange among police officers [whoever has access to these numbers, must be affiliated with the authorities because these are personal numbers of police explains Hajiyev] attempting to incriminate Hajiyev.

Most recently, Hajiyev was harassed in a post written by the ruling party’s youth branch.

AIW continues to document this and other digital attacks and threats against representatives of Azerbaijan Civil Society.