Popular critical news sites challenge block by Azerbaijani Government

28 June 2017

Four prominent independent or opposition news websites are challenging the Government’s and courts’ decision to block access to them in Azerbaijan. On 21 June 2017, the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), based at Middlesex University, and Azerbaijani partner lawyers[1] applied to the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of Meydan TVAzadliqAzerbaycan Saati and Turan TV. We argue that the ban restricts their freedom of expression and is politically motivated, and that they did not have any effective means of challenging the decision domestically.

On 19 March and 18 April 2017, the Azerbaijani president approved amendments to the laws on internet regulation, including creating new powers for the Government and domestic courts to block websites. Similarly restrictive measures already exist in Turkey and Russia. The four websites have been inaccessible in Azerbaijan since 27 March 2017. The Government blocked them temporarily on the grounds that they publish articles containing prohibited material, calling for ‘the destruction of public order’. It then requested the courts to block them permanently. Initially the Government denied it had blocked the websites, and then failed to provide any evidence for the block. Eventually it cited eleven articles to justify the ban, two of which were published after the sites had already been blocked.

The websites are amongst the only reliable sources of independent information (i.e. not controlled by the Government), and their readership is predominantly in Azerbaijan. The block has therefore had a detrimental effect on the reach of the websites, which casts doubt on their future survival, and prevents their readers from obtaining independent news on key social, economical and political issues in the country.

We argue before the European Court that the blocking of these websites is unlawful, illegitimate and disproportionate, and the Azerbaijani Government has breached their freedom of expression rights (Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights – ECHR). In addition, the restriction is aimed at hindering society’s access to information and opinions critical of the Government. We also argue that the authorities acted in ‘bad faith’, blocking the websites as part of its broader attempt to limit the free media over the last few years (Article 18 ECHR). Finally, the sites have no access to effective remedies in the domestic courts (Article 13 ECHR).

The Banned Websites

Meydan TV An online media outlet based in Berlin, co-founded by Habib Muntezir and Emin Milli, a former political prisoner. It has been banned on the basis of two articles discussing the influence of religious ideologies on the presidential administration and the authorities’ response to civic action, including protests in 2017.
Azadliq.info A leading opposition online newspaper based in Baku. It has been blocked on account of five articles critical of the Government and presidential administration, and the president’s family. Azadliq is managed by Ganimat Zayidov, a former political prisoner.
Azerbaycan Saati An internet television broadcaster based in Strasbourg, France. It has been blocked on the basis of two articles and two interviews. One interview with political blogger Ordukhan Teymurkhan called for the Azerbaijani people to wake up and described the current regime as a dictatorship. It is also managed by Ganimat Zayidov.
Turan TV An internet television broadcaster based in Strasbourg, and managed by Ganimat Zayidov. It has been blocked because of an interview with Leyla Yunus called “The hostages of the Aliyev regime”.

EHRAC is litigating a number of cases concerning the severe harassment and persecution of other Azerbaijani human rights defenders and lawyers including Khadija IsmayilovaLeyla and Arif YunusRasul JafarovIntigam Aliyev, Alayif Hasanov and Khalid Bagirov since the Government crackdown of 2014.

[1] Our partner lawyers in Azerbaijan are: Samed Rahimli, Javad Javadov, Elchin Sadigov and Zibeyda Sadigova.