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Friday, March 14, 2014

Azerbaijani court issues yet another Facebook verdict

Ilham Mirzayev (Photo: Anspress.com)
A district court in Baku issued an order to Facebook to take down a page deemed libelous to a popular Azerbaijani TV host, psychologist, astrologist and fortuneteller. The order will be sent to Mark Elliot Zuckerberg ASAP.

Azerbaijan has criminalized online defamation despite numerous objections and now even a casual Facebook status or a blog post can land you in jail for up to three years. Last year, Astara District Court in southern Azerbaijan also issued the first Facebook verdict and convicted a former bank employee for criticizing his former employer on Facebook. Luckily, an appeal court overturned the verdict and the same Astara District Court reviewed the case and acquitted the online critic.

However, as long as defamation remains criminalized and online speech is subjected to harsh regulations, new cases will continue to pop up. And this is where enters yet another Facebook verdict.

The story is a bit complicated and not all details are clear, but it has evolved from a popular TV host’s apparently personal feud with a private citizen.

Ilham Mirzayev, a multifaceted TV host, who is also a psychologist, astrologist and fortuneteller, has been allegedly attacked by a private citizen. The attacker is now behind the bars and in court, and the attacker's mother has gone public about the issue. She has given interviews to media, among them Azadlig and Yeni Musavat newspapers – usual suspects.

To make the story more complex, there is a Facebook page with 17,000 fans and titled İlham Mirzəyevin yalanları (Ilham Mirzayev’s lies) that routinely criticizes Ilham Mirzayev. Naturally, the page was quick to pick up the story and use it to denounce Mirzayev further.

Ilham Mirzayev has brought up a case in Narimanov District Court in Baku against the attacker's mother, the newspapers and Facebook. Yes, against Facebook. And luckily, it is only a civil case, not a criminal one. Mirzayev claimed that he was defamed and asked for 160,000 manats (manat = euro) in material damages from the mother, refutation and apology from the newspapers and removal of the libelous page from Facebook.

Narimanov District Court in Baku has reviewed the case and agreed that Ilham Mirzayev was indeed defamed. The court ordered the mother to pay 2,000 manats in material damages to Mirzayev, the newspapers – to refute and issue an apology.

And this is the most interesting part the court also ordered Facebook to take down the above-mentioned page. According to Gündəlik Teleqraf newspaper, the court order demanding Facebook to take down the page will be sent to Mark Elliot Zukerberg.

I just wonder whether the legal department of Facebook will be caught in surprise or not.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Azerbaijani Politician Calls for Assassination of Armenian Leaders

Erkin Gadirli in the 2010 parliamentary
election debates (Public TV)
Revenge, not justice is needed for Khojaly, says Erkin Gadirli, the new generation opposition icon.

Every year in Azerbaijan and among the Azerbaijani Diaspora, the commemoration of the Khojaly tragedy anniversary turns emotional – with old wounds not healed yet and perpetrators of the biggest war crime in the Nagorno-Karabakh war still being at large.

A state-sponsored campaign under the banner of “Justice for Khojaly” is held in mostly European and US cities to commemorate the massacre of hundreds of innocent Azeri civilians among them many women and children at the hands of Armenian military units. At home, the tragedy is widely remembered across all segments of the society.

Azerbaijani social media is also filled with reactions and emotions from both public figures and ordinary citizens.

However, this year, there was a small surprise that shocked and galvanized the Azerbaijani online community. Erkin Gadirli, a new generation opposition politician and an icon among independent and opposition-minded youth has dropped a bomb that reverberated across the social media (full discloser: I have also reacted to it).

Erkin Gadirli is one of the founders of Republican Alternative (REAL), a new generation opposition political movement that declares the democratic principles and republican ideals as their core values. Gadirli is also the chairman of its political council – the Majlis.

On the anniversary of Khojaly massacre, Erkin Gadirli posted a public post on his Facebook profile calling for assassination of Armenian leaders, among them the current president of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan, in an act of revenge against the Khojaly massacre. Here is his full statement:
What we need for Khojaly is revenge rather than justice! The main perpetrators of the crime – Robert Kocharyan, Seyran Ohanyan and Serzh Sargsyan must be assassinated. Our national security services should have done it already. It is possible technically. There is no need for a demonstrative revenge. It is enough if their food gets poisoned. Then we can deny it and even give our condolences. In any case, we can blame “radical opposition”, “popular avengers” or someone else (if there is no-one, we can create them) and we can even set-up a sham court (with special favors for prisoners inside, followed by amnesty). We can accomplish this task even with the help of Armenians themselves or the third party. The only thing is to be sure that they will not die from natural causes.
Gadirli’s statement brought immediate debates, discussions and even some personal attacks and bitter accusations in the small, but politically-conscience Azerbaijani community online. A lot of harsh criticism was addressed to Erkin Gadirli, who is a respected law expert -- he did even participate in preparation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court -- but Gadirli also received significant support, especially from nationalistic circles and among those people who think that justice and peace process failed in the case of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

As a response to criticism, Erkin Gadirli posted a lengthy explanation the next day, basically reiterating his position and answering to various arguments he was addressed – saying that he was not liberal or humanist; he was not speaking as a lawyer, but as a politician; that the courts and conventions didn’t matter in this case; as well as he didn’t care for any negative reaction from “the West”.

“I’m not humanist, nor liberal. Yes, I’m a kind and mild person, but I’m not irresolute or coward. I have my own limits. I can compromise on many things in daily life, but I am strong on my political principles. If needed, I can take the responsibility to carry out the just revenge and I’m ready to serve the prison term for it,” wrote Erkin Gadirli.