Council of Europe, OSCE concerned at further restrictions to free expression in Azerbaijan

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, expressed serious concern today at the promulgation by the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, of amendments extending the application of criminal defamation provisions to online expression on 4 June 2013.

Muižnieks and Mijatović, both of whom had explicitly called on the President not to sign these amendments into law following their adoption by Parliament on 14 May 2013, regretted this step, which clearly contradicts Azerbaijan’s commitments and obligations relating to the decriminalization of defamation and freedom of expression in general.

Wary of the chilling effect that these provisions are bound to have on those wishing to use the Internet to raise legitimate critical voices, Nils Muižnieks and Dunja Mijatović also expressed concern that the new changes will further erode the already limited space for free expression in the country.

Noting that the Azerbaijani authorities are currently engaged with the Council of Europe Venice Commission on the reform of Azerbaijan’s defamation legislation, the officials strongly urged the Azerbaijani authorities to deploy genuine efforts to ensure that this process results in legislation that complies fully with the European Convention on Human Rights and OSCE commitments on freedom of the media, both online and offline.

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