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Hearings Resume On Baku's Bid To Block RFE/RL, Other Sites


Moves to block five news websites come after RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service published investigative reports about financial activities linked to the family and inner circle of President Ilham Aliyev. (pictured, file photo)

BAKU -- A court in Azerbaijan on May 3 resumed hearings on a government effort to block the websites of five independent media outlets, including the website of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service.

The Sabail district court in Baku is considering a lawsuit filed by Faiq Farmanov, head of the Electronic Security Center under the Ministry of Transport, Communications, and High Technology in the Caspian Sea country.

The hearings began on April 27.

According to court documents, the ministry has restricted access to the websites in question since March 27 on the instructions of the Prosecutor-General's Office.

The prosecutor's office claims that the sites of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service and the other outlets -- the opposition newspaper Azadliq, Meydan TV, and two other Internet TV programs -- pose a threat to Azerbaijan's national security.

It accuses them of "posting content deemed to promote violence, hatred, or extremism, violate privacy, or constitute slander."

At the May 3 hearing, a lawyer representing RFE/RL, Adil Ismayilov, told the court that the ministry had submitted only headlines of articles it presented as evidence, and that one news item about a spate of reported suicide attempts cited local media outlets APA and Report.

Ismayilov asked the ministry representative whether those media outlets had received any warning about the content, and the representative said they had not.

Also on May 3, the judge rejected a motion by lawyers for the media outlets to deem the Prosecutor-General's Office a party in the case and to conduct a study examining the wording relevant to the case.

The judge scheduled the next hearing for May 12.

A ruling in favor of the ministry could be cited as legal justification for the prosecutor's order restricting access to the sites.

RFE/RL President Thomas Kent called the ministry’s action an attempt at "blatant censorship that is intended to intimidate the independent press, and which shows nothing but contempt for basic rights and international conventions."

Moves to block the websites come after RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service published investigative reports about financial activities linked to members of President Ilham Aliyev's family and his inner circle.

Those investigative reports were produced by RFE/RL in cooperation with the Sarajevo-based Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

Aliyev has ruled the oil-producing former Soviet republic since shortly before his long-ruling father's death in 2003.

He has shrugged off frequent criticism from rights groups and Western governments that say he has jailed critics on false pretenses and abused power to crush dissent.

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day.

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