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Azerbaijan held liable for blocking Radio Free Europe’s websites by ECtHR

Azerbaijan held liable for blocking Radio Free Europe’s websites by ECtHR

The case relates to the blocking of RFE’s websites in 2017, and was one of four separate cases involving website blocking that were considered by the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’). The websites were blocked with immediate effect, pending an application for a court order by the relevant government agency. According to the government, the request to restrict access was made “to protect interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime”. However, the real reason why the government sought to restrict access to RFE’s websites was because it reported on public interest matters such as the lack of fundamental freedoms in Azerbaijan, human rights abuses, the deterioration in press freedoms and the corruption of public officials. Azerbaijan failed to establish during the domestic proceedings how any of the articles published by RFE that they relied on to justify the blocking was conducive to violence or that the blocking of related domains was necessary to maintain public order or national security. Following the domestic courts’ endorsement of the government’s actions, RFE took a claim to the ECtHR, alleging violations of its rights under Articles 6, 10, and 18 of the European Convention of Human Rights. It alleged that the decision by the domestic courts to confirm the blocking of access to its websites was politically motivated, in order to supress independent, critical reporting. In its judgment the Court found a violation of Article 10 on the basis Azerbaijani law failed to provide RFE with sufficient safeguards against arbitrary interferences involving temporary blocking measures imposed by the government agency in the absence of a judicial decision, and that in addition, the safeguards that were provided for by law were not respected in this case. The Court decided that as it had dealt with the main legal questions arising in the case in its analysis of Article 10, it was not necessary to consider the other complaints.

See judgment here.

“We welcome today’s recognition by the European Court of Human Rights that the Azerbaijani government’s blockage of the RFE website violates the fundamental rights of citizens to access information.

While the website has been blocked since 2017, Baku’s crackdown against RFE’s independent journalism is a longstanding problem. In 2009, the government banned broadcasting on FM frequencies and, in 2014, they raided our bureau and shut it down.

Yet, using circumvention tools, RFE continues its investigative reporting on public corruption, political prisoners, and electoral fraud. The people of Azerbaijan, like people everywhere, deserve access to independent information free from government propaganda. We will persist in this mission and continue to press Baku to allow us to operate freely in Azerbaijan.”

Radio Free Europe, President & CEO, Stephen Capus

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