Strasbourg, 06/08/2013 – “Harassment of journalists and others expressing critical views in Azerbaijan is a source of serious human rights concern. The authorities should release all persons who are in detention because of their opinions and improve legislation and practice on freedom of expression and assembly” said today Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, releasing a report on his visit to Azerbaijan carried out from 22 to 24 May 2013.
Recommending the full decriminalisation of defamation, the Commissioner regrets that the President of Azerbaijan has signed in June amendments aimed at facilitating the application of defamation provisions to online expression. Another concern relates to the excessive damages which are sometimes awarded in civil defamation cases. “The authorities should finalise the reform of the defamation legislation in order to repeal imprisonment and allow only proportionate fines.”
The Commissioner further underscores the need to strengthen the independence and impartiality of the courts, which appear to be particularly severe in judging journalists and other media professionals.
The Commissioner is also concerned by recent restrictions to the exercise of fundamental freedoms online. “A wave of arrests and prosecutions, as well as widespread surveillance, has targeted social media users. These practices must cease immediately and the Internet must remain a free arena for public expression.” (more...)