This topic seems to have no answer actually. While some people (especially foreigners) find the local dependence of Internet highly visible, the others (Azerbaijanis mainly) explain that even if it’s a complicated issue, the Internet still could be seen as the platform of free communication. What can we, the Europeans accustomed to the endless and presumably free Internet access, think about these contradictory opinions? Parvin Alizada and Toghrul Valiyev, both from Baku, Azerbaijan, would respond to the questions stated above. You can find below their comments written in reply to my last article (published here in their original forms).
Read Part One: The Internet Is (Not) Free in Azerbaijan
Is the Internet free in Azerbaijan or not? After reading several articles and opinions on this topic, we consider this issue to be a controversial one. For sure, free Internet is a kind of human right. Free Internet associates with freedom of speech; it is a freedom of media and of anything connected with it. Free Internet for any government means to have a right in posting, writing whatever you think, share opinion about certain political situation in the state with no fear.
This year the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was held in Baku, where there were discussed important issues on this topic. I was not able to take part in this forum but after watching a video of some sessions held there and reading the articles on IGF in Baku, I create my point of view concerning the freedom of internet in our state.
I agree with Ulfat Abassoy who mentioned that there is no problem with using Internet in Azerbaijan; anyone can write what is in his/her mind. What about the letter of Emin Milli which was published before the Forum, contained lots of arguments on freedom of using Internet. The very significant thing was that Emin`s letter was totally against the present government and how the activist from AEGEE in Baku said, Emin Milli does not represent either government or our youth. He was in a jail for some time and now writes such kind of letter in which he tells about the fear of people for being in jail while using freedom of speech in Baku.
During the conversation between the participants: Rauf Mardiyev, a newly elected chairman of “IRELI” Public Union, and Ali Novruzov, a blogger from Azerbaijan, the second one mentioned that “if all users in Baku who wrote something against the state will be arrested so there will be no more place in jails”. Users of YouTube and Facebook in Azerbaijan are able to write their opinions, comments about government using their freedom of mind, and it does not seem to be a big problem for them afterwards. Several times I came across this type of cases mostly on Facebook. One of the examples of having no fear while posting something was on the page of Emin Milli on Facebook. Emin Milli posted the link to his letter on his Facebook page back on 9th November 2012, and some users just liked it or wrote comments under it. As I remember, the first comment was about “the fear of being fired from jobs…”, which was deleted. It was related to what Emin Milli wrote in the letter as well. After this very comment followed another one “and now tell we have fear even to Like this comment”. And what was very interesting that the second comment (“and now tell we have fear even to Like this comment”) got Likes in Facebook in less time than the previous one and the link to letter as well. This very simple case shows that most of users of Internet in our country have no fear in writing their free minded comments.
Like in any other countries we also have oppositional groups who state their point of view about the government, the policy and so on. But from time to time it seems that these very people complain about everything in our country, starting from very simple things to very important ones, sometimes their behavior, words can touch our values.
In addition to my words, I can say that freedom of Internet still exists in our state but it is somehow limited when we talk about our culture, history, values. With the help of such International Forums, projects, discussions like IGF which are organized in order to share free opinions with each other, we are able to turn this small space of free Internet into a big one.
When we are talking about the freedom of Internet, we need to be clear what we mean. The freedom of Internet is a freedom to be chosen. For this kind of freedom we need a simple freedom but unfortunately such a situation in Azerbaijan is not normal (if we can use this word for this sphere). And the Internet freedom is the specific topic though.
In politics we can criticize the government and its policy in some newspapers and websites. For example, you can easily find the materials in which Aliev’s family is criticized. The Azerbaijanis can write down their opinions and say what want to the government. Unfortunately, some years ago the biggest political discussion forum was closed by the administrators so that we cannot talk now about the politics (opposition, NAP – New Azerbaijan Party, and others) within the biggest regional social network. That’s why all the “activists” came to Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, but in my opinion here you can share your opinion only with your friends, not with all people. If you are the “official” opposition, you can write what do you want and where do you want because of the money from grants (NDI, USAID and others). At the same time employees of the web news agency cannot criticize the government politics because of their work (there are one or two exceptions as this resources are the opposition ones). Our editors don’t like writing about the politics – they prefer economy, culture, etc.
When we talk about the economy, I’d say that we have a lot of freedom. We can easily criticize the government on the Internet forums, social networks (our government actually doesn’t talk about the economy there), but we cannot write anything on the government sites (there are two reasons: censorship and the fact that they are actually not working).
If you want to publish an article on the most popular websites, then your article can’t be against the government (maybe against some of the ministers, but not against the government and the president). If you are a foreigner (for example from Russia) the websites could publish such your article without any problem, but in Azerbaijan you do need a kind of close relationship or a friendship with the editors.
The situation with blogs is not perfect. The most popular blogs have just hundreds of readers (the population of Azerbaijan is estimated officially around 9.2 mln. The number of internet-users is about 1 mln.). And if you write something in your blog, you can share it only with your friends. When we talk about the freedom regarding religion issues – yes, you can criticize the department of religion, the mollas or mosques, but not the religion itself. In Azerbaijan we do not tolerate atheists (the last social research estimates the number of atheists around 0.1% of the population of Azerbaijan). At the same time you cannot say anything against the history and the Azerbaijani culture.
In conclusion, I’d say that actually we have got a small Internet space to feel the freedom – our Internet gives us only few possibilities to share freely our opinions – as for example a big discussion portal, two or three information agencies, one website about the culture, etc. But now Azerbaijan is on its way to do the progressive changes. Many international forums and conferences were held in Azerbaijan some time ago. I hope that in the near future our Internet will be free from all complexes and Azerbaijani stereotypes.
According to Parvin and Toghrul, the Internet issue in their country seems to be ambiguous. My last interviewees expressed basically the same opinion. What we know right now is that Azerbaijan unfortunately still needs more improvements in this area. Even if there are new initiatives and new solutions reaching citizens, the Internet freedom requires more attention. Hopefully, the changes follow a good direction as the Azerbaijani youth says.
As the topic seems to be highly interesting, I do invite you to share your comments and opinions!
PS: Bad news coming: Ilham Aliev, the President of Azerbaijan, is considered to be the most corrupted person of 2012 according to the OCCRP (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project).
The article was previously posted on Eastern Partnership Project, an AEGEE-Europe Project website under the title “The Internet Is (not) Free in Azerbaijan. Part Two”