One of Azerbaijan’s biggest Internet service providers appears to be blocking access to RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service website, a major source of independent news for the country.
The latest blockage, by Delta Telecom, began on March 27 and is documented in an April 10 report by the non-profit digital security services group Qurium. Delta Telecom is one of only two providers licensed by the Azerbaijani government to connect international Internet traffic, according to Freedom House. The blockageaffects Internet traffic to the websites of RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service (azadliq.org) and independent media outlets Meydan TV (meydan.tv) and the newspaper Azadliq (azadliq.info).
RFE/RL President Thomas Kent condemned the blockage as a “flagrant abuse of power by Azerbaijani authorities to obstruct RFE/RL’s mission to provide independent information and reporting to audiences in Azerbaijan.”
The interference follows 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 has 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.
Previous Qurium reports have documented efforts in December 2016 to generate artificial Internet network congestion within Azerbaijan to prevent access to the websites of both RFE/RL’s and the Voice of America’s Azerbaijani services. The group also documented distributed denial of service and other attacks in January 2017 against independent media outlets abzas.net, cumhuriyyet.net and azadliq.info that it traced to Azerbaijani government-associated IP addresses.
RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, known locally as Radio Azadliq, has responded to the interference by publishing stories directly to Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and other social media, where it has hundreds of thousands of followers and millions of engaged users.
Authorities launched a concerted effort against the Azerbaijani Service in December 2014, arresting prominent RFE/RL investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova on charges that were widely condemned by media advocates as politically motivated. Weeks later, RFE/RL’s Baku bureau was raided and sealed by government agents in connection with tax-related claims that RFE/RL has called “baseless” and has sought to have adjudicated in court, but which forced closure of the bureau in May, 2015. Ismayilova was released from prison in May 2016.
Azerbaijan is rated as “Not Free” in the 2016 Freedom House Freedom of the Press Rankings, and journalists are regularly detained and harassed by government officials. RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service continues to gather and report the news from RFE/RL’s headquarters in Prague for its website, azadliq.org, and remains a vital alternative to Azerbaijan’s government-controlled press.