European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes had particularly tough criticism for Azerbaijan following an eventful trip to Baku for the U.N.-sponsored Internet Governance Forum, where she said she was barred from visiting a prison hospital and her staff’s computers were hacked into.
Kroes said in a 10 November blog post that she was disappointed by the country’s attitude to freedom and democracy. “The reality in Azerbaijan is harsh,” she said. “We see many arbitrary restrictions on the media. We see the exercise of free speech effectively criminalized. We see violent attacks on journalists.”
In her post, Kroes, who spoke at the forum 7 November, said two of her staff’s computers were hacked into while they were attending the conference. Ryan Heath, her spokesman, told the Associated Press that he and another member received warnings from Apple that an unauthorized party had accessed their computers. He said he didn’t know who broke into the computers but believed it was some kind of surveillance.
Kroes also said in her post she met with President Ilham Aliev on 6 November and that he promised she could visit a penitentiary hospital to see the conditions of the prisoners. Upon her arrival at the prison, however, Azerbaijan officials wouldn’t let her in, citing “protocol issues,” according to Radio Free Europe.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also had harsh words about the country’s free-speech record following the Internet forum. Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, called the country’s continued crackdown on protesters and the media an “embarrassing trend” and said she brought the issue up with Aliev, RFE reports.
Update: Responding to the claims the EU staffs’ computers were hacked, the head of Azerbaijani Presidential Administration Social and Political Department Ali Hasanov flatly rejected the possibility any hacking took place in an interview with Trend.az on 12 November. “There was no such interference, and couldn’t have been. This accusation was simply made to harm authority of Azerbaijani state and image of organizers of the Seventh International Internet Governance Forum,” Hasanov said.