The Ministry of Digital Development and Transport blocked access to the Russian state-owned RIA-Novosti news site on June 3, according to reports by Azerbaijani media. In a statement issued the following day, June 4, the Ministry said the decision to block the Russian news website was a result of the news site running a story that was of defamatory nature against Azerbaijan.
According to Turan News Agency reporting, the Ministry statement said, “RIA Novosti violated Azerbaijani law On Information, Information, and Protection of Information.” Specifically, the statement was referring to an interview published by RIA Novosti with Artak Beglaryan, the Minister of State of the disputed territory of Karabakh. In response, Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry accused Russia of “spreading slanderous information against the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and promoting separatism” and violating “the 1997 Agreement on Friendship, Security, and Strategic Partnership between Azerbaijan and Russia, as well as the 2022 Declaration on Allied Cooperation, which requires both countries ‘to refrain from any activity directed against the principles of the UN Charter and each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,’ as well as ‘counter the threats of separatism’.”
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both Russia and Azerbaijan have blocked or discussed blocking each other’s news sites. At the time of writing this post, at least six Azerbaijan news sites are currently blocked by the Russian internet regulator– Roskomnadzor.
According to Article 13.3.3 of the law on Information, Informatization, and Protection of Information, in cases of existence of a real threat to the lawful interests of the state and society or in urgent cases when there is a risk to the life or health of people, the access to internet information resource is temporarily restricted directly by the Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technologies [former name of the Ministry of Digital Development and Transport]. This restriction is applied without a court order.
In an interview with AzerNews, journalist Gulu Maharramli said, the decision was “adequate.” “RIA Novosti, a Russian state agency, has repeatedly published articles and interviews against Azerbaijan, against the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, and inciting separatism in Azerbaijan. They have been warned many times, but the latest information shows that the agency disrespects the territorial integrity and state independence of Azerbaijan in these matters. Therefore, it is very important to block such a website, and I think it is a very honest step taken by Azerbaijan, no matter how sharp it is,” said Maharramli.
This is not the first time, the Ministry of Digital Development and Transport has ordered the blocking of international news websites. In 2017, the Ministry ordered the blocking of Radio Liberty, accusing the news platform of “posting content deemed to promote violence, hatred, or extremism, violate privacy, or constitute slander” as well as a number of local and exiled news sites.
[Update June 13] According to Turan News Agency, on June 10, RIA-Novosti removed the interview however, the site remains blocked in Azerbaijan.