The prosecutor's office deals a serious blow to freedom of speech

Baku/30.07.22/Turan: The Media Law Group (MLG) issued a statement in connection with the warning of the Prosecutor General's Office against a group of journalists and social media users for their posts and publications.

The statement says:

Journalists Fikrat Faramazoglu, Sakhavat Mammadov, Agil Alishov, blogger Tofig Shahmuradov, and a group of social network users were summoned to the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Republic of Azerbaijan and questioned about their writings and posts on social networks. Among them, T. Shahmuradov was accused of posting information "prohibited by law" on the social network and was sentenced to one month of administrative detention. Other journalists were officially warned for their writings. The Prosecutor General’s Office did not reveal exactly what prohibited information was disseminated by the journalists and social network users who were questioned and what violations they committed.

The Media Rights Group (MRG) is deeply concerned that journalists and social network users are harassed in such ways for their writings, shared opinions, judgments, and criticisms and considers such behavior as a step that harms the freedom of speech and expression.

In addition to noting that the Prosecutor General’s Office has certain authority in the field of media, the Media Rights Group states that the behavior toward journalists in such cases should be in accordance with the framework defined by the Constitution and the international conventions to which our country is a party and should not be in a form that prevents journalists from collecting and disseminating the most important, most complete, and sometimes controversial news. Summoning a journalist to any government agency to interrogate them behind closed doors damages their credibility and forces other journalists to censor while performing their functions.

In the statement of the Prosecutor General’s Office that warned journalists, it is stated that they violated the Law on Media, did not present facts and events impartially and objectively, and allowed one-sidedness. Regretting that the Prosecutor General's Office did not refer to the basic provisions of the Constitution on freedom of expression, but to the new Law on Media, the content of which was criticized by the progressive world, the application of which was considered inadmissible, and the legitimacy of which became the subject of serious discussion, the MRG notes that the requirements of the relevant 14 articles of the said Law are not directed at individuals, but at media subjects, and should not be applied to individuals. Journalists, in general, everyone has the absolute freedom to express their thoughts, and the law cannot impose an obligation on individuals to disseminate balanced information while expressing their thoughts, opinions, and criticisms.

When applying the provisions of separate laws related to freedom of expression, government bodies are primarily obliged to be guided by the provisions of the Constitution and the international conventions to which our country is a party, which guarantee the freedom of expression and information of individuals. Article 47 of the Constitution of Azerbaijan protects everyone's right to freedom of expression, and Article 50 protects everyone's freedom to seek, receive, impart, produce, and disseminate information. Article 10 of the European Convention guarantees the right to freedom of expression. Specifically, for the interference of these rights and freedoms, the interests protected by the law must be shown clearly enough for everyone to understand, the prohibited information must be clearly justified by which law and which interests must be protected, and it must be foreseeable. If the Prosecutor General’s Office has determined a "legal basis" for interfering with freedom of expression, it must share with the public all the details of this (the date on which the information was disseminated, whether the information is prohibited, which law prohibits the dissemination, etc.). It is unacceptable to justify interference with the right to freedom of expression with general expressions such as "prohibited by law".

The MRG believes that such behavior will cause a serious blow to journalists' freedom to collect and disseminate information, and freedom of expression in general, which cannot be justified by anything. Journalist activity, information gathering, and transmission cannot be limited only to disseminating information voluntarily given to them by government bodies, officials, and individuals, or simply by visual observation. The duty of a journalist in a democratic society and the benefits of journalistic activity to society cannot be considered less important than the duties performed by separate government bodies. The Media Rights Group calls on the officials of all government bodies to avoid such behavior toward journalists and social network users and to change this wrong practice.

Media Rights Group is a civil society initiative working in the field of adapting the legislation and practice related to media freedom in Azerbaijan to advanced standards, protecting the media and journalists, promoting freedom of expression, as well as other fundamental rights. The Group was founded by lawyers Alasgar Mammadli and Khalid Aghaliyev.--0--

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