The Internet is (not) free in Azerbaijan

Since the discussion about whether or not the internet is a human right is ongoing in AEGEE, I’d like to share with you my latest eastern observations on this issue. I’ve recently read a letter published by Emin Milli, an Azerbaijani blogger and youth activist, in The Independent (source: article). I expect that most of us imagine his statement should express the common Azerbaijani point of view. Suprisingly, it’s not that evident. Let’s take a look at it with Ulfat Abbassoy and Durdana Boyukkishiyeva from AEGEE-Baki.

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When I read it for the first time, it seemed clear to me that the Internet is not for the common good in Azerbaijan. Emin Milli (alias “milli” in Azerbaijani means “national”), a former prisoner of conscience, expresses in this letter his discontent that the president Ilham Aliev ties the Azerbaijanis to use the internet freely: (originally) “As someone who was jailed for using the internet to criticize you and your policies, I have experienced an inconvenient truth – the internet is not free in Azerbaijan and it is definitely not free from fear.” Amongst his statements, we can easily find this one which says that the Internet is still under control: (originally) “The Internet governance can’t properly serve sustainable human, economic and social development without freedom of expression, the rule of law and efficient democratic governance.” According to him, the current use of the Internet is actually connected with a fear of being imprisoned. I was a little taken aback whilst reading this letter, so I decided to publish it on fb to go ahead with the discussion. And then the serious one started.

It was Ulfat Abbassoy from AEGEE-Baki who stated his opinion immediately: (originally) “Dear Adrian, this person who wrote this article is against the present government and all of us and we always write what we want, please if you want to know about something about our country first of all ask me and our friends from Azerbaijan.” Interesting, isn’t it? I’ve asked him why he does not like the letter published by a human rights activist who was supposed to fight for freedom of the Internet. Ulfat responded that Emin Milli represents neither the youth nor the government’s side: (originally) “Nobody can understand him. We don’t know what he trying to do as writing this article. I and all of my friends always use Internet freely, I always read every news agency and comment there what I think and my friends too. We have a radio channel that they always have a lot of programs against and opposite to our goverment. I have a friend who is also AEGEE’an. He is blogger and always writes blogs against something but no one and organization dislodge him for writing this kind of article. First of all I think these kind of articles are our internal matters and we don’t want any organization and any foreigner to intervene our internal matters. These are difficult and big problems as politics. (…) Don’t believe these kind of articles.”

With a feeling that something is going on, I asked another girl from Azerbaijan to express her opinion on this matter. Durdana Boyukkishiyeva from AEGEE-Baki told me that: (originally) “I use internet freely reading internet media every evening. Sometimes making my personal comments on it. I write my ideas about our government on my f/b status or make comments on my friends’ status. I watch YouTube where oppositional videos are posted and sometimes give them comments and nobody tells me why I’m doing so (!) . As for me I use internet freely everyday. (…) Milli is quite famous among oppositional youngsters here. Some points he stated are fair enough but rather good reply is written below that article by Samira, please, read it as well. Samira’s point of view I support in this case….” Then, what does “Samira” state in her comment? She does not agree with Mili, saying that the Internet is free in Azerbaijan even more than in the other European countries (she/he lives in Sweden right now). She evokes several examples to prove that Milli isn’t correct: (originally) “By the way there was a documentary in Sweden about Swedish company Telia which is operating in Azerbaijan. Your friends gave some interviews accusing Telia in helping to Azerbaijans “regime” to “arrest free-thinkers”. After that it was the pressure on Swedish government to remove Telia from Azerbaijan. When I met journalists who did this report I told them that internet and globalization are actually helping to democratization and removing of internet from Azerbaijan would be devastating for society. He answered “I do not care how it will affect Azerbaijan, I am doing my report”.”

As a neutral observer, I’m still a little bit confused. Is the Internet free in Azerbaijan or not? If the truth is expressed by the Azerbaijani AEGEEans, why did The Independent, a respectable British magazine, publish such a letter? Unless they’re right, what’s going on? I invite you to read an article, as well as share your opinions afterwards!

PS: I’ve underlined one phrase from Samira’s comment just to affirm my personal view that the Internet is the kind of right that humans should have.

Written by Adrian Browarczyk, AEGEE-Poznań

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