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Friday, August 16, 2013

Azerbaijani court delivers the first criminal verdict on Internet defamation

Screenshot of AccessBank website
A district court in southern Azerbaijan convicted a former bank employee for criticizing a private bank on Facebook.

On May 2013, Azerbaijan criminalized online defamation and put strict punishment for libel on the Internet. This act was contrary to all recommendations, Azerbaijan’s international commitments and even against the National Action Plan for Human Rights signed by the President and envisaging the abolition of criminal defamation at all. It happened a few months after the Internet Governance Forum met in Baku with promises of the Azerbaijani government that “The Internet is free in Azerbaijan and will remain so”. The new amendments to the Criminal code can land you in jail up to three years for just two lines in Facebook. So much for the Internet freedom!

And it finally happened. Not in a Baku courtroom, in a highly publicized case against some political activists in front of numerous local and international observers, but instead, in a border town in an obscure backwater province. The Astara District Court in southern Azerbaijan convicted a former bank employee for criticizing a private bank on Facebook. Mikayil Talibov, former employee of AccessBank, a private bank operating in Azerbaijan has been sentenced to one year public labor, along with withholding 20% of his monthly revenue under notorious article 147.1 of the Criminal Code stipulating punishment for libel. The court also ordered Talibov to refute his statements on Facebook.

According to the Baku-based Media Rights Institute, Mikayil Talibov had previously worked at AccessBank Closed Stock Company and considered his dismissal to be illegal. He complained to relevant bodies and created a Facebook page “Accessbank-Haqsızbank” (“Accessbank- Unfair bank”) where he criticized activities of the bank:
The bank considered the page to contain libelous content and demanded the court to bring M.Talibov to justice for libel. The Astara Court investigated the claim in accordance with the texts the prosecutor submitted from Facebook. The court concluded the expressions in the texts to be of libelous character: “Accessbank-Haqsızbank” (“Accessbank- Unfair bank”), “Against Azerbaijan with money earned by Azerbaijanis”, “Accessbank contributes to political tension, makes people discontent with the government”, “Bank takes a kickback of 5.000 AZN for 50.000 AZN value deposit” and other similar expressions.
The irony is that the predator – AccessBank is formed by 100% foreign capital. Its shareholders are Black Sea Trade and Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Finance Corporation, KfW - Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, Access Microfinance Holding AG and LFS Financial Systems GmbH.

Further irony is the AccessBank motto – “Your Accessible European Bank”.