Policy Paper On the Status of Freedom of Expression in Azerbaijan

The Institute of Democratic Initiatives (IDI) has prepared a policy paper "On the Status of Freedom of Expression in Azerbaijan".

The aim of the paperis to describe the situation of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan, to reflect the approach of international conventions to freedom of expression, to describe and analyze local legislation, to show the nature of the interference with freedom of expression in 2021, to examine the implementation status of the decisions of the ECtHR, to analyze the research results and finally is to give recommendations.

The document was created using the media monitoring technique. The data was gathered from a range of media sources, including local and international reporting. Utilizing keywords, media monitoring was confined to the particular time frame of the study (January - December 2021).

According to the study, there has not been any improvement over the past few years in Azerbaijan's freedom of expression. On a practical level, state institutions have abused their authority, made illegitimate interferences with freedom of expression, and occasionally used punitive powers as a means of arbitrary coercion to limit a person's freedom of expression. No positive amendments to the law have been noted. The imprisonment of political and social activists for expressing dissenting opinions on social media, as well as the pressures and threats they faced, were seen as flagrant violations of their freedom of speech. Thus, six persons were charged with crimes in 2021 as a result of their ideas and sharing.

The existence of criminal liability for defamation in legislation and the practical application of this article are two of the main issues. This issue was often brought up in 2021 in the cases where Azerbaijan was found to have violated Article 10 of the Convention. The provision of the Criminal Code that safeguards the president's honor and dignity is one of these types of articles. State representatives, public figures, and political figures, especially leaders, should, nevertheless, be more tolerant of criticism, according to the ECtHR's rulings.

The disproportionality of sentences is one of the primary violations against Azerbaijan that the ECtHR has often found. Thus, it was indicated in those rulings that the local courts selected the harshest penalties without taking into account elements like the subject's contribution to the public discourse and the person's role in public life.

85 cases involving the infringement of the right to free expression were decided by the ECtHR in 2021. Azerbaijan, which is ranked third, was found to have violated the right to freedom of expression in 6 decisions. In general, the ECtHR has ruled 16 times against Azerbaijan for violating the freedom of expression.

When we examine how these judgments are being implemented, we can observe that the administration disregards the recommendations and calls made by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to implement the decisions fully and consistently.

Although it focuses primarily on implementing the compensation, it pays little attention to standardizing the legislation, taking proactive steps to address infractions, prosecuting offenders, or using ECtHR precedent as a general norm in later legal proceedings.

The report thoroughly investigated the aforementioned topics, and at the end it made any appropriate recommendations.