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September 01 2013

The dangers of online criticism in Azerbaijan

The dangers of online criticism in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijani journalists, bloggers and activists are facing serious offline consequences for their online activities.

With Azerbaijan’s October 9 presidential elections rapidly approaching, critical journalists, bloggers and activists are facing growing pressure from a government that is becoming increasingly hostile to criticism and dissent that is expressed online.
Websites being hacked
In recent weeks, two organisations have reported a series of cyber attacks against their websites. Azadliq,one of the most critical newspapers with one of the highest circulations in the country, reported that its website had been experiencing DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks since August 13.
Media rights watchdog the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) has also reported that its website has been experiencing DDoS attacks during the same period. Through its extensive coverage of freedom of expression developments in the country, the IRFS often exposes issues the authorities would prefer to keep hidden.

According to IRFS’s press release, a constant stream of attacks started on August 13 by anonymous hackers using third party computers. The IRFS reported that the hackers have attempted to take the websites down. IRFS Chairman Emin Huseynov stated, “Those are only the attacks that we know about, though. Some media organizations choose not to report incidents, and the majority of cyber attacks go undiscovered.”

Indeed, it is hard to determine the true extent of such pressure against online critics, when going public carries such significant risks. But one thing is clear: the internet has become a dangerous place for government critics in Azerbaijan. The authorities seem determined to keep employing new tactics and finding new means of pressure to silence criticism and dissent, and in the absence of serious pressure from international bodies such as the European Union and the Council of Europe, this crackdown seems destined to continue.

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