The Azerbaijanian government has continued to silence its own journalists. It has made conscious efforts recently to forcefully stop protests regarding freedom of speech and the wrongful imprisonments of journalists.The silencing of these civil liberties shows its increased downfall towards democratic erosion thanks to President Ilham Alieyev and the executive branch.
On December 28th, protesters came forth in front of the Capitol in Baku over frustration over the new media bill. This bill changes the rules of journalism to conform to checking its articles with government authority.
More specifically, President Ilham Aliyev approved extending restrictions on media outlets by requiring all journalists to register with authorities and abide by “objective” new rules.
How Does It Compare To the Past?
The new media legislation only adds fuel to the control President Ilham Aliyev has maintained in his autocratic regime that started in 2003.
For more than a decade, many of the country’s journalists do their work in secret, outside of the country in fear or out of persecution.
A spike in displaced journalists especially increased after multiple violent police beatings and raids in 2020. These events were positively correlated to journalists covering the election fraud behind the 2020 parliamentary elections, and the unequal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines among social classes.
The new media legislation was passed a few months ago but was immediately put into use. Journalists who protested, like Fatima Movlamli, were arrested and beaten in detention as recently as February 15:
“ The police [said] she had no right to work as a journalist since she was not included in the register created by the new media law.”
As a country, Azerbaijan is not a new to authoritarian rulings, however, its rate of democratic erosion is accelerating thanks to the diminishment of civil liberties such as freedom of speech and right to assembly.
Since 2014, the country has had a long trek of harassing journalists over fake charges, but has never directly controlled media outlets in fear of global retribution.
But with the passing of the new media law, this changes the narrative completely. The semi autocratic regime is now paving way towards communist guidelines that are similar to the media control of North Korea.
How Will This New Law Affect the Future of the Country?
The law has already affected journalists. In a mere two months after its enactment, journalists were persecuted based on new guidelines. However, there’s a greater rippling effect.
The new law increases the breakdown of government accountability. In this case, the government is the source of abusing their power to control the rights/freedoms of their own people.
This breakdown, however, does not just start at the lack of government accountability, but spreads to other areas in a chain reaction.
For example, the executive branch of the Azerbaijanian government was prompted to go around the current electoral system to punish journalists that unmasked some of the electoral fraud and bribery committed via previous elections.
Here, we see a force of a hand to this election fraud, two imperative factors that contribute to democratic backsliding, and therefore democratic erosion.
The root of all of this does stem from President’s Aliyev and the executive branch, and will continue due to the nature of the current country’s state of nature.
In terms of the future of Azerbaijan, this new media paves way for the government to infringe on another civil liberty: the right to privacy.
By registering, many writers are required to submit personal details like addresses, bank accounts, work contacts, and more towards authorities. Those who do not register are liable to the painful consequences, much like Fatima Movlami faced.
Because the majority of the population is afraid of the repercussions of going against President Aliyev, this media law might influence similar laws that infringe on the rights of normal citizens as well.
Why Does It Matter If It’s Happening Far Away?
The misbelief of a country creating its problems with little to no outside influence is ignorance at best. Governments, much like the United States, were founded and adapted by using other countries as inspiration. The same can be said with Azerbaijan and its Russian influence.
The Azerbaijan government has been influenced and is no stranger to foreign funding. Azerbaijani journalists discovered “18 Russian-national” journalists on the government’s foreign funding list.
This is a common theme throughout President Aliyev’s presidency and proved to remain as a constant source because of the lack of global attention on the subject.
It has become increasingly apparent that the journalists and the people of Azerbaijan cannot fight for their own rights and liberties, so how can we grant them the freedom they deserve?
The fight to freedom, given many past historical events, is definitely a long one.
But given our knowledge of what works and what doesn’t as global citizens, how can we come together to stop small acts such as the erosion of freedom of speech, from snowballing into an avalanche?
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