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Azerbaijani Court Blocks RFE/RL Website

Azerbaijani Service website grab (May 12, 2017)
Azerbaijani Service website grab (May 12, 2017)

WASHINGTON -- A district court in Baku today ruled in favor of a lawsuit blocking access within Azerbaijan to the website of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Azerbaijani Service,

RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said, “Today's ruling is another blatant attempt by Azerbaijani authorities to try to silence our reporting in Azerbaijan. It misrepresents RFE/RL’s work in Azerbaijan, and violates Azerbaijan's international commitments to respect media freedom. We will appeal it."

The Sabail district court in Baku ruled that the Ministry of Transport, Communications, and High Technology's request to block access to the websites of five news outlets -- RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, the nongovernmental Azadliq newspaper (unrelated to, Meydan TV, and the online Turan TV and Azerbaycan Saati TV channels -- must be carried out.

Access to the websites has been blocked since March 27 on the instructions of the Prosecutor General’s Office, which claims that the websites "pose a threat" to Azerbaijan's national security, and accuses them of "posting content deemed to promote violence, hatred, or extremism, violate privacy, or constitute slander."

The March blockage followed the publication of investigations by the Azerbaijani Service, in cooperation with the Sarajevo-based Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, on financial activities linked to members of the president’s family and inner circle. The Service also recently published reports raising questions about costs associated with a September 2016 referendum that extended the term of presidential office from five to seven years, and created the post of Vice President, to which President Ilham Aliyev appointed his wife earlier this year.

According to Azerbaijani legislation, a guilty judgement by the court against could be used as grounds to prosecute the website’s correspondents. In 2014, authorities imprisoned prominent investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova on charges of encouraging an attempted suicide and financial crimes in a case that foreign governments and rights advocates condemned as politically motivated.

Ismayilova’s arrest came just weeks before Azerbaijani state agents raided and sealed RFE/RL’s Baku bureau, forcing it to close in May, 2015. In December 2008, RFE/RL was formally banned from FM airwaves by Azerbaijan’s National TV-Radio Council, but continues to engage with its audience via satellite and online social media platforms.