середа, 12 березня 2014 р.

JOINT STATEMENT : Supreme Court’s decision fuels libel reform calls

Azerbaijan should promptly revise its libel laws to meet international standards for freedom of expression and the media, Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) and Media Rights Institute (MRI) said today. The
organizations call on the Azerbaijan’s Parliament, Milli Meclis to strike down articles 147
(libel), 148 (Insult), 323 (humiliation of honor and dignity of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan) and 324 (offensive actions against the flag or the national emblem of the Republic of Azerbaijan) of the Criminal
Code, that encourage self-censorship, thereby liming free expression.

On February 21, 2014 the Plenum of the Supreme Court adopted
[1]the decision on
‘Submission, within the initiative procedure to the
Azerbaijan’s Parliament, of
proposals to amend the Criminal Code’. The Plenum presented the
draft amendments
of articles 147 (libel) and 148 (Insult) of the Criminal Code
to Milli Meclis
with the intention to bring libel laws to the European Court of
Human Rights
(ECtHR) standards. The new draft amendments to the Article 147
(libel) and
Article 148 (insult) have been engineered by the Court and now
are set to become
a law at the summer session of Milli Meclis.

‘The Plenum, while relying on the position of the European
Court highlighted
that the preference should be given to the imposition of
sanctions not related
to imprisonment, considered appropriate the provision of only
sentence of fine
in Article 147.1 an 148 of Criminal Code’, reads February 21
Decision of the
Plenum of the Supreme Court.

‘We welcome Supreme Court’s rhetoric to abolish prison sentence
for defamation.
However, we find the proposed reform only partial, as
(retained) provisions of
the Article 147.2 of the Criminal Code envisage, inter alia, up
to three years
imprisonment for libel committed through accusation of a person
in having
committed a serious or especially serious crime’, the
organizations said.

IRFS and MRI recall that such Article 147.2 (defamation by
accusing a person of
having committed a grave crime) has already been used against
critical
journalists in the past, including the famous Fatullayev case,
which the
European Court found that imprisonment of the journalist under
defamation
charges, violated the European Convention for Human Rights.
Journalist Eynulla
Fatullayev was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, on
the basis of an
article he had written and some postings attributed to him in
an Internet forum.

The European Court of Human Rights has found, on several
occasions, imprisonment
for defamation to be a disproportionate restriction on right to
freedom of
expression and emphasized that such a penalty has a chilling
effect on
journalists and media. This also applies to cases when the
sentences have not
been effectively executed.

The Plenum also adopted recommendations to guide lower courts
through the
application of freedom of expression provisions in compliance
with the case law
of the European Court of Human Rights.

‘We have repeatedly called on the Azerbaijani government to
amend the outdated
defamation laws. There is no justification for retaining
criminal defamation in
Azerbaijan. Civil laws provide adequate protection and remedies
in defamation
cases,’ the organizations said.

IRFS and MRI recall that international and regional bodies have
long recognized
the threat posed by criminal defamation and have recommended
that it should be
abolished.

Azerbaijan is a party to the European Convention on Human
Rights and the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),
which both provide
for the right to freedom of expression. The United Nations
Human Rights
Committee, which monitors state compliance with the ICCPR, has
also stated that
imprisonment is not an appropriate penalty for defamation. The
UN Special
Rapporteurs on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
repeatedly stated
in their annual reports that 'penal sanctions, in particular
imprisonment,
should never be applied.”

In Resolution 1577 (2007), the Parliamentary Assembly of the
Council of Europe
has called on member states to abolish prison sentences for
defamation without
delay.

The Azerbaijani Government submitted the latest information on
the libel law
reform to the Committee of Ministers, which, consisting of
representatives of 47
member states, held a discussion on Azerbaijan in its regular
human rights
meeting on 4-6 March 2014. Its recommendations are yet to come.

IRFS and MRI recall that the draft Law On Protection from
Defamation was
prepared by Azerbaijani civil society organizations and
presented to the
Presidential Administration in 2012 at the behest of the OSCE
office in Baku.

In September 2012, the government submitted the draft law to
the European
Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission) for
comment. The text
of the draft law was only made public on 22 May 2013, when it
became apparent
that the government officials clandestinely have taken down key
clauses of the
bill with the effect of retaining criminal defamation provisions.

The Azerbaijani government failed to implement the provision of
the “National
Action Program for increasing the efficiency of human rights
and freedoms in the
Republic of Azerbaijan” for the adoption in 2012 of a new
defamation law which
would decriminalize defamation.

IRFS and MRI call on the Azerbaijani authorities to live up to
the standards and
commitments reflected in the European Convention of Human
Rights, the Helsinki
Accords, the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, and the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

To this end, IRFS and MRI call on the Azerbaijan’s Parliament,
Milli Meclis, to
consider carefully the calls and arguments of international
bodies for
decriminalization of defamation and abolish criminal defamation
in its entirety.
If criminal defamation is retained, imprisonment as a sentence
should be
eliminated in all cases, the fines for defamation should be
reduced and the
minimum set for fines should be removed.

12/03/2014

Baku, Azerbaijan

STATEMENT

Four online activists arrested as wide-scale repression
continues unabated

The Azerbaijani authorities must drop the charges against a
number of online
activists facing prison sentences merely for peacefully
exercising their right
to freedom of expression, Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and
Safety (IRFS)
said today. IRFS condemns this crackdown and urges the regime
to release these
activists and heed civil society calls for greater respect for
fundamental
freedoms.

A member of opposition youth movement, Turkel Alisoy, 22, said
on Thursday he
had been arrested (allegedly for disobeying police), the latest
youth activist
to be detained in a widening crackdown on political
opposition.In a recent
Facebook post referring to the students protest in the Baku
State University, he
criticized the president and his government.

It came weeks after three others were arrested in connection
with their Facebook
accountsthatare critical of the government.

Omar Mammadov, 19, a co-founder of the Axin (The Current) youth
movement and an
active member of the Civic Solidarity Party (VHP), went missing
on January 24.
Few days later, on January 27 his allies announced that
Mammadov had been
detained by plain-clothes police and charged with illegal drug
possession
(Article 234.4.3 of the Criminal Code: manufacturing, purchase,
storage,
transfer, transportation or selling drug in large amount with a
view of illegal
manufacturing and processing of narcotics or psychotropic
substances).

Mammadov has been harshly criticizing and mocking Azerbaijani
authorities on his
Facebook page, called “Exclusives from AZTV” (NB: AzTV is the
state television
channel, engaged in 24/7 propaganda of the regime). Mammadov
was sentenced to
three months pre-trial detention. If convicted, Mammadov faces
up to three years
in jail.

Elvin Karimov had his computer and other ICT equipment
confiscated and is now
halfway through a three month pre-trial detention period. The
arrest, carried
out by the National Security Agency (MTN) officers as Karimov
was walking home
from work, comes because of “illegal drug possession” (Article
234.4.3 of the
Criminal Code). Before he was officially charged, Karimov had
been held
incommunicado in the custody of the MTN.

It appears the real reason behind his arrest was the "Azad Soz"
(Free Speech)
Facebook page, which Karimov was running. With 11,000 likes,
the page is
well-known for its strong political satire.

Co-founder of the page in question, Tural Sadigli, currently in
political exile,
says he could not access the page since he last updated it on
January 20.
Sadigli believes the page is under control of the MTN.
According to Sadigli,
MTN people have threatened Karimov’s family and told them not
to speak to the
media. He said he had also received phone threats and told to
“behave”.

Additionally, on November 22, 2013, police arrested Facebook
activist Abdul
Abilov, 31, and subsequently charged him with “illegal drug
possession” under
Article 234.4.3 of the Criminal Code. Shortly before his
arrest, Abilov created
two critical Facebook pages -- “Election Fraud” and “Stop
sycophants!”.

Observers reported police violations of arrest and detention
procedures in
Abilov's case. Abilov himself reported ill-treatment while he
was being held at
the custody of the Department of Struggle Against Organized
Crime under the
Ministry of Interior, well-known for its harsh conditions. On
29 November
2013, Abilov's appealed to the Azerbaijani public: "I expect
help from every
person with honor, principles and dignity. I am innocent. They
set me up.
Signed: Abilov Abdul”.

He is currently serving his 3 months pre-trial detention. If
convicted, Abilov
faces up to three years imprisonment.

In addition to traditional route to subdue dissent such as
arrests and
intimidation, Azerbaijani government is believed to have been
aggressively
developing software and technology in recent years to
strengthen its
surveillance on political activists, human rights workers and
journalists.

A nonprofit research lab, Citizen Lab researchers [2]say they
have found
evidence of the Remote Control System (RCS ) spyware being used
in Azerbaijan.
The Remote Control System (RCS), is a trojan that is sold
exclusively by
Milan-based Hacking Team to intelligence and law enforcement
agencies worldwide.
The RCS is capable of stealing documents from hard drives,
snooping on video
chats, reading e-mails, snatching contact lists, and remotely
flipping on
cameras and microphones so that they can quietly spy on a
computer’s unwitting
user.

Citizen Lab researchers identified an RCS endpoint in
Azerbaijan (Azertelekom:
109.235.193.83) that was active between June and November 2013,
which was
important period in the country’s political life—in relation to
the October
presidential election.

The stage for this crackdown was set on 16 May 2013, [3]with
the adoption of a
law which severely restricts the right to freedom of expression
on the internet,
criminalizing online speech. The law is a flagrant breach of
the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as the
European
Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), both of which Azerbaijan is
a party to. IRFS
regards the law as a blatant attempt to clamp down on the only
remaining space
for Azerbaijanis to freely express themselves in a country
where traditional
media have been reduced to silence via legal means and
intimidation.

This crackdown cannot be ignored. International organizations –
Council of
Europe in particular-- must act decisively to condemn human
rights abuses and
demonstrate their strong support for individuals who exercise
their rights to
freedom of opinion and expression--whether by running a
Facebook group critical
of the government, posting eyewitness video of wrong-doings,
reporting on
electoral fraud, or challenging the state policy.

07/03/2014

Baku, Azerbaijan

Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety

tel/fax: (+99 412) 598-45-19

mob:     (+99 450) 508-78-87

e-mail: info@irfs.org

Address: 8 R. Behbudov St., Apt. 85/86,

Baku, Azerbaijan

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