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Disturbing plan to introduce Internet TV licencing in run-up to legislative elections

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is worried that the Azerbaijani government is trying to introduce online controls in the run-up to the November 2010 parliamentary elections. On 16 April, communications minister Ali Abbasov said Internet regulation and, in particular, a system for licensing Internet TV was needed. Nushiravan Magerramli, the head of the National TV and Radio Broadcasting Council, made similar comments on 22 April.

"The authorities keep on making dramatic statements about their desire to protect the country's morals, but in practice what they want is to maintain their monopoly of news and information," Reporters Without Borders said. "They already control TV and the most part of print media and now they are staging a shameless offensive against the Internet."

The press freedom organisation added: "Such behaviour is contrary to the undertakings Azerbaijan has given to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe."

Farid Karimov, the head of the pro-government Information Centre, urged the government at the end of March to pay attention to online morality, arguing that certain websites violated the country's moral standards. Mentioning pornography, violence and radical politics, he said such sites posed a threat to the younger generation.

Journalists and human rights lawyers who took part in a round table on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, voiced concern about the consequences of Internet regulation and accused the government of trying to tighten its grip on the media. Internet access is already very limited in Azerbaijan due to the cost of a connection, 10 times higher than in nearby Turkey.

Two bloggers, Adnan Hadjizade and Emin Milli, are still in prison for criticising the regime and denouncing corruption in a satirical video posted online. Their conviction was confirmed on appeal on 10 March. Their lawyers referred the case to the supreme court on 29 April. They were given jail sentences of 24 and 30 months respectively on 11 November 2009.

Reporters Without Borders supported a demonstration outside the Azerbaijani embassy in Paris on 22 January to call for their immediate and unconditional release.

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