Friday, March 14, 2014

Azerbaijani court issues yet another Facebook verdict

Ilham Mirzayev (Photo:
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.

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