Azerbaijan looks to block critical online media

BAKU, Azerbaijan – Azerbaijan on Thursday, April 27, asked a court to block the websites of a US-funded broadcaster and several news outlets critical of the country's authoritarian government.

The Washington-backed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Azerbaijani branch, Radio Azadlyg, as well as internet-based Azerbaijan Saati TV, Turan TV, and Meidan TV "pose a threat to the legitimate interests of the state and society," the ministry of transport and communications said in its statement in court.

The ministry demanded the news outlets' websites be blocked but gave no further details to back up its claims.

Journalists at the outlets condemned the attempt to shut them down. 

"This is a move against freedom of speech and independent media," Ganimat Zahid, the director of Turan TV, told AFP in an e-mail from Strasbourg, France, where he lives in exile.

"I do not expect justice, the court will rubber-stamp the political order," he added.

"The whole thing is about suffocating free media in Azerbaijan," Germany-based Meidan TV's official representative, Habib Muntezir, told AFP in an e-mail.

Oil-rich Azerbaijan has faced strong international criticism for stepping up pressure on dissent and opposition media since President Ilham Aliyev's election for a third term in 2013.

Aliyev, 55, strongly denies rights abuses.

The tightly-controlled ex-Soviet republic ranked 162 in the "2017 World Press Freedom Index" released this week by media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders.

"Independent journalists and bloggers are thrown in prison if they do not first yield to harassment, beatings, blackmail, or bribes," the group said.

"In response to international pressure, the regime released the most famous imprisoned journalists at the start of 2016 but arrested others in the months that followed," the watchdog said. 

Aliyev took over in 2003 after the death of his father Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB officer and communist-era leader who had ruled Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 1993. –