ARTICLE 19 has submitted an alert to the Council of Europe Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists, raising concerns about unacceptable pressure on Azadliq – Azerbaijan’s oldest opposition newspaper:
“Azadliq, the main opposition newspaper in Azerbaijan, has been forced to stop publishing following the arrest of their financial director, Faiq Amirov, and ongoing financial pressures from state-owned or affiliated companies.
Faiq Amirov was arrested on 20 August 2016 on charges of “inciting religious hatred” and “infringing the rights of citizens under the pretext of conducting religious rites”, after police allegedly found materials produced by Fethullah Gülen in his apartment and car. He is currently being held in pre-trial detention, accused of being an imam in the Gülenist movement. Rights groups believe the charges to be unfounded and politically-motivated; while Amirov has denied that the Gülenist materials are his, believing that the police planted them among his belongings. Amirov faces between two and five years in jail if convicted. According to his lawyer, Amirov has been denied medical treatment while in jail.
Azadliq has long faced financial pressures, which have been exacerbated by Amirov’s arrest, resulting in the paper’s inability to pay the state owned printer a 20,000 manat (approx. 10,000 EUR) debt. The printer subsequently refused to work with the paper, and it has not been published since September 2016. Azadliq was unable to pay this debt on two grounds: first, Azadliq’s bank have refused to recognize Azadliq’s new financial director, meaning that the newspaper cannot access its funds. Second, according to a newspaper spokesperson, Azadliq was owed and 70,000 manat (approx. 35,000 EUR) by the state-owned distribution company GASID.
Since being forced to stop publishing, the online version of Azadliq has reportedly faced repeated attempts to block access to the website.”
According to Qurium, the hosting provider of Azadliq’s website, there have been five incidences since 28 November in which they recorded significant issues with the site’s ability to load, significantly restricting the ability of people inside Azerbaijan to access the site.
By monitoring the site’s performance, Qurium have identified repeated attacks on the site, which they believe to constitute engineered bandwidth throttling and network congestion. This slows the site’s ability to load, and can completely restrict access to the site within Azerbaijan. In the most severe incident, on 15 December 2016, the site was fully unreachable within Azerbaijan from 7:30 AM UTC until 12 PM UTC.
The most recent blocking incident took place on Saturday, 24th December 2016 (00:00 Baku time), the 27th Anniversary of Azadliq Newspaper. Since then, Qurium have noticed a change in strategy in attempts to block access to the site. They report that the site is now experiencing DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks, and have also registered that an unknown actor is performing vulnerability scans of the website, which seek to identify weaknesses that can be utilised to facilitate blocking.