In recent weeks, access to a number of sites in Azerbaijan has been completely shut down.
These sites include Radio Azadliq, Azadliq.info, Meydan TV and most recently, Abzas.net.
“On March 6, at 12 noon, we ourselves discovered and users informed us that access to our site had been shut down. First we thought it was due to technical problems. But then we established that access to the site was closed only within Azerbaijan. Until yesterday, it was possible to access the site via several providers, now this is no longer possible”, stated Ulvi Hasanli, editor of abzas.net, in a discussion with Meydan TV.
Ulvi Hasanli has already been editor of Abzas.net for eight months.
He says the site has published articles critical of the government since the day of its creation, as a result of which the site has been subject to virtual attacks.
In order to intercept these DDOS attacks the site’s own editorial board blocked several IP addresses.
“Something like two months ago we restricted access for several IP addresses, since it was from these specific addresses that the attacks were made, attacks which blocked access to the site. It’s worth noting that these IP addresses were outside the country”.
With the restriction of access to Abzas.net in the end of April this year, there are now four blocked media sites on the Azerbaijani web.
Aghshin Asadov, an active internet user who utilizes the services of local provider KATV-1, says that previous to December of 2016 all sites would open on his computer with no problem.
The problems, he says, began in the last few months.
“I call my provider about this almost every day, and sometimes even several times a day. They put a young lady on the phone who has no idea what was going on, limiting herself to stock phrases ‘I don’t know, I’ll try right away to find out what the problem is’. The last time, I was told that it is not the internet providers, but rather the sites themselves, who are imposing the restrictions, and advised that I contact them directly”.
Habib Muntazir, co-founder of Meydan TV, stated that the problems sprang up a couple months ago, and that access is sometimes restricted, sometimes open.
“This last week the measures became even more severe. If the goal of these sites is to circulate information, to provide users with information services, then why would the sites themselves block access? This statement is entirely without logic.”
Regarding the restriction of access for some IP addresses, Muntazir said, “We don’t impose any sort of restrictions for any IP addresses. Quite the opposite, we fight any restrictions, we are supporters of a free and open media. In reference to the statement from the head of the Azerbaijani government, Ilham Aliyev, that, “The internet is free in Azerbaijan”, we demand that the Azerbaijani government, and first and foremost Ilham Aliyev himself, ensure their actions match their words. Not one government has achieved success using restrictions and bans.”
The press service for the Ministry of Transport, Communications, and High Technologies of Azerbaijan commented as follows on the situation that has taken shape with the closing of several sites.
“We have no information about restricted access to some sites. At first, information was circulated about access to several sites being closed, but half an hour later it was announced that the problem had been resolved. The information about blocked access is baseless.”
In a telephone conversation with a user, an employee of Delta Telecom (as noted on the company's official site, this is the only leading operator in the Caucasus which provides Azerbaijan with internet resources – editor) stated that the company is not restricting access to particular sites, and that the above-mentioned problem might be connected with various problems.
“We don’t handle complaints from private individuals. We must receive complaints from providers, who are our clients. If a concrete provider addresses an official letter to Delta Telecom on the basis of a user complaint, we can look into this problem.”
Which providers are fully blocking access?
Via monitoring on social media networks it has been determined that access to the abovementioned sites is being fully blocked by Bakinternet, Ultell, Narmobil, Azercell, Enginet, Sazz, Azeronline, Katv internet, and Alfanet.
According to those same users, Citynet has not closed access to even one of the sites.
It is worth noting that Bakcell and Nar-Citinet do not purchase internet services from Delta Telecom.
According to Habib Muntazir, they are constantly searching for alternative means of resolving the issue.
“We inform our readers about the anonymizing tools VPN and TOR, and we explain how to use them. But first and foremost we call on the government to honor its own laws. Unfortunately, we have no other mechanisms for exerting influence.”
According to Ulvi Hasanli, the government should understand that fighting against modern information technologies is pointless. He also noted that, since they don’t have even the slightest trust for the legal system in Azerbaijan, the editorial board is trying to resolve this problem via practical means, “The government is displaying intolerance towards independent news sites. Discussing this problem with officials brings no results. As such, we are filming and circulating videos in which we explain to our readers how to access blocked sites without any particular difficulty.”
The most recent test performed by the site Qurium on March 27 confirmed once more that the Azerbaijani side is intentionally simulating traffic in order to restrict access to the sites. This is called a ‘denial of service attack’ (DDoS).
The site writes, “On March 27 at 11:30 we detected a sudden flow of information to the site azadliq.info (the official website of the newspaper Azadliq). 70% of the site views originated in Azerbaijan. On Monday, this indicator fell to 30-40 percent.”
Further, the site notes that after examining the various paths it determined that the general transit provider AS29049 is responsible for this traffic.
“For example, all KATV1 cable television and internet subscribers gained access from the IP address 22.214.171.124/16 via AS29049, as a result of which this traffic took shape."
In February of this year the National Assembly announced that changes were being made to the laws of the Azerbaijan Republic “On information, development of information technologies, and information security” and “On telecommunications”. The vice-speaker of the parliament, Bahar Muradova, noted that both documents on changes had been sent by President Ilham Aliyev.
According to the Press Freedom Index, compiled over the past five years by Reporters Without Borders, Azerbaijan is in 163rd place of 180 countries; in 2015, it was in 162nd, in 2014 in 160th, in 2013 in 156th, and in 2012 Azerbaijan was in 162nd place.
According to the Freedom House report for 2016, in the area of freedom of the press Azerbaijan is in the category of “not a free country”, and in terms of the internet the country is considered only partly free.