Azerbaijani parliament curtails Internet freedom with new defamation law

By bne IntelliNews November 30, 2016

The Azerbaijani parliament approved a series of amendments to the criminal code on November 29 criminalising defamation on the Internet, Turan news agency reported. Specifically, the amendments stipulate that insulting the “honour and dignity” of the president using fake accounts and profiles online is punishable with fines ranging from AZN1,000 (€539) to AZN1,500 or with imprisonment of up to three years.

The changes come as Azerbaijani authorities have received increased criticism over their crackdown on human rights. The threat of losing its membership in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) forced Baku to ease its barriers to funding of non-governmental organisations.

While the media in Azerbaijan is heavily censored, the Internet had so far been relatively free, with access granted to publications and social media accounts that were critical of or parodied the establishment. However, that appears to be gradually changing, as the government has blocked the websites of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Voice of America, two US-funded publications that have criticised the government.

The government is allegedly also using the media ban to block the dissemination of criticism over its recent increase of gas and electricity tariffs, Turan news agency wrote.  

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