European Court: Azerbaijani Government has case to answer over blocking of news websites
On 20 September 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) communicated the case of four independent news websites blocked by the authorities in Azerbaijan. The four websites – Meydan TV, Azadliq, Azerbaycan Saati and Turan TV – have been inaccessible in Azerbaijan since March 2017. The applicants are represented by EHRAC and partner lawyers in Azerbaijan.
Prior to their 2017 ban, the four websites were among some of the few independent media sources in Azerbaijan. Access to the websites was limited around the same time that President Ilham Aliyev approved amendments to the laws on internet regulation, handing the Government and domestic courts new powers to block content. The authorities later cited eleven articles that were critical of the Government in an attempt to justify the action taken against the four websites. Two of these articles were published after the sites had already been blocked.
“The adoption and application of legislation on internet content regulation was a dramatic reactionary step regarding free speech in Azerbaijan. In practice, its application resulted in the blocking of nearly all main opposition and independent internet media outlets . . . This case is a primary opportunity to challenge internet blocking legislation and its application in Azerbaijan before the European Court. The result of the case may offer chances for independent media to operate in Azerbaijan.”
Samed Rahimli, partner lawyer
Communicating the case to the Government, the Court has asked it to provide its observations on whether the action taken by the Azerbaijani authorities to block the websites interferes with the applicants’ freedom of expression, is lawful, necessary and pursues a legitimate aim (Art. 10).
What are 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”.|
Why is this case important?
Independent media in Azerbaijan has been severely restricted as part of a crackdown on civil society which began in 2014. International human rights NGOs have cited government restrictions on media freedom as a key factor in Azerbaijan’s appalling human rights record. Numerous other websites have been blocked in Azerbaijan since the laws on internet regulation were amended. Independent journalists also face intimidation and harassment as freedom of expression in Azerbaijan is rapidly eroded. EHRAC also represents Khadija Ismailoyva, an award-winning Azerbaijani journalist who is currently subject to a punitive travel ban intended to hinder her investigations into corruption by the family of President Aliyev, as well as the widow of the journalist Rafiq Tağı who was murdered in 2011 nine days after he had published an article criticizing the Iranian state and its influence in Azerbaijan EHRAC is also litigating a number of other cases concerning the persecution of all of whom are prominent lawyers who have been disbarred as a result of their human rights work.
 The partner lawyers are: Samed Ramhili, Javad Javadov, Elchin Sagadov and Zibeyda Sadigova.