A new bill proposing stricter regulation of online media in Azerbaijan was put forward last Thursday at the final meeting of the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, raising concerns that the already limited space for free expression online could shrink even further.
Presented by the Press Council Chairman
, MP Aflatun Amashov, the new bill is focused on imposing greater restrictions on social networks and blogs.
Amashov has defended the bill, arguing that by defining the legal limits of online activities such as blogging for the first time, the new legislation will fill an important regulatory gap.
“Nowadays, we do not have defined boundaries with regards to blogging activities, which is why there is the need for new legislation, to regulate activities in this field”, Amashov told the online discussion forum
The proposed bill was endorsed by Sarvan Sadiqov, Head of the Legislation Department on State Building of the Milli Majlis (National Parliament).
“Everybody can write whatever he wants, that is why absolute chaos reigns in this sphere. It is necessary to introduce legal regulations of this field,” Sadiqov said in a statement to
The proposal echoes earlier attempts by Azerbaijani legislators to regulate online expression.
In 2014, the restriction of all access to Facebook was debated following a proposal by MP and leader of the Motherland Party Fazail Aghamali.
Stricter regulation of online media was also called for in 2016, by MP Malahat Ibrahimqizi. Drawing attention specifically to Meydan TV and Facebook page Sancaq, the New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) member
that stricter regulations be approved.
“Now it is not possible to make a decision regarding Internet TV as some gaps exist in the current legislation”, Ibrahimqizi argued at the time. “I propose to include in the agenda of the autumn parliamentary session a bill aimed at regulating Internet TV”.
The call for increased regulation of online media in Azerbaijan has been revived despite growing evidence that freedom of expression online has already been restricted substantially. A Freedom House report on press freedom from 2016 described increased monitoring of internet activity and the harassment of bloggers, journalists and social media activists. Outlets such as Meydan TV and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty have seen their Baku offices closed in recent years.
Online media plays an important role in Azerbaijan, where only 10% of news outlets can be considered independent, according to a study by the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety.