A court in Azerbaijan has ruled in favor of blocking several independent websites, including that of RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service.
The Sabail district court in Baku ruled Friday that the Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technology’s request for the blockage of access to the websites must be met.
RFE/RL said it would appeal the ruling, which it called “another blatant attempt” at silencing its reporting in the country.
In addition to RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service, the ruling affects opposition newspaper Azadliq, Meydan TV and two other Internet TV programs.
The ministry has limited access to the sites since March 27 on the instructions of the Prosecutor-General’s Office, which claimed they “pose a threat” to Azerbaijan’s national security.
It accused them of “posting content deemed to promote violence, hatred or extremism, violate privacy or constitute slander.”
Moves to block the websites came after RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service published investigative reports about financial activities linked to members of President Ilham Aliyev’s family and his inner circle.
The investigative reports were produced by RFE/RL in cooperation with the Sarajevo-based Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
“Today’s ruling is another blatant attempt by Azerbaijani authorities to try to silence our reporting in Azerbaijan,” RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said. “It misrepresents RFE/RL’s work in Azerbaijan and violates Azerbaijan’s international commitments to respect media freedom. We will appeal it.”
Aliyev has ruled the oil-producing former Soviet republic since shortly before the death of his long-ruling father, Heidar Aliyev, in 2003.
He has shrugged off frequent criticism from rights groups and Western governments that say he has jailed critics on false pretenses and abused power to crush dissent.
The hearing into the lawsuit started on April 27.
Samad Rahimli, a lawyer for the Azadliq newspaper, told reporters after the ruling that the lawsuit itself contradicts Azerbaijan’s constitution and the country’s international obligations.
Baku-based media expert Alasgar Mammadli said the decision amounted to “censorship.”
“It is a wrong step that leads to the absolute suppression of freedom of expression and imposes control over the internet in Azerbaijan,” Mammadli said.
Mammadli added that the ruling might also lead to the prosecutions of individuals cooperating with the five media outlets.