Just as Azerbaijan is being criticized in the Freedom House report, the country’s legislature is considering a measure that would punish untoward statements on the Internet, EurasiaNet.org reports.
The bill has reached the floor of the Milli Majlis, or national assembly, and would make profanity or libel on the web a crime – just as such things are when delivered via other methods of communication.
If the Majlis passes the proposal as written, those who idly use uncivil verbiage against someone could face up to three years in prison, fines of up to 1,000 manats ($1,274), or community service, according to the Baku-based Media Rights Institute.
A written defamation, or libel, would net a similar sanction when committed online, EurasiaNet.org reports.
The trend is troubling to those who advocate free speech on the Internet, which is under threat in many countries that don’t have a tradition of free print or broadcast media. As in places like China and Iran, Azerbaijani authorities are already known for checking Facebook and other social media and taking action against government critics, according to EurasiaNet.org.
The media rights group noted that the measure contradicts a 2011 pledge by the government to reduce curbs on free speech. “MRI stresses that the initiative is contrary to the commitment and directed at adopting harsher punishments for use of freedom of expression. It should be seen as a step aside from its commitment to decriminalize defamation,” the group said.
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