It calls itself “Your Accessible European Bank” and is partly owned by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, an institution pledged to uphold democratic values.
Thus it was shocking to many associated with Azerbaijan’s AccessBank when it turned out to be the first entity to put someone in jail for speaking his mind about the bank on Facebook, Radio Free Europe reports.
Mikail Talibov lost his job with AccessBank several years ago and after failing to reverse the dismissal in court, he vented frustration with what he called the bank’s corruption on Facebook. The bank sued under Azerbaijan’s recent and much-criticized libel law, and on 14 August a court sentenced Talibov to a year of “corrective labor,” RFE writes.
The law allows civil penalties of up to three years in prison for discourse on the Internet deemed defamatory, as well as fines of up to 1,000 manats ($1,280).
Amnesty International and the Council of Europe – which gets development aid advice from the EBRD – expressed disappointment at the sentence, with the council’s human rights commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, saying the law “further chills freedom of expression.”
In Baku, the Media Rights Institute, which opposed the law, said Talibov’s imprisonment can be placed at the feet of the very international organizations that purport to protect rights such as freedom of expression.
“People here still hoped these international organizations would never take these kinds of steps,” said the institute’s head, Rashid Hajili. “Unfortunately, we’re now witnessing a blow to free speech by these very organizations.”
The EBRD and other international entities share ownership of the bank, although RFE writes that AccessBank’s management board does not have an EDRB representative. EDRB did not comment for RFE’s article.
The development bank’s own statement about rights in Azerbaijan even addresses the libel issue directly: “Decriminalization of libel is needed to protect freedom of expression for members of the media and is a vital component of democratic governance.”
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