Azerbaijan: Fighting for Facebook Freedoms and Beyond
It’s not new that Facebook can be a dangerous thing. And not just for social faux pas.
Users who do not mince their posts can lose their jobs.Including in Azerbaijan, where a well-respected Baku State University historian, Altay Goyusov, claims that he had been asked to resign after expressing criticism of the university’s administration and the Azerbaijani authorities on his Facebook profile.
Goyusov’s cover photo shows police arresting Ilgar Mammadov*, an outspoken government critic and civil-society activist accused of helping stoke riots this January in the town of Ismayili. A photo caption calls for Mammadov's freedom.
The rector of Baku State University, Abel Megaramov, however, has denied the accusation, telling RadioAzadlig that he thought Goyusov was using the story as a means to "acquire political asylum in America."
After a long business trip to the US, he claimed, Goyusov "started to forget his national feelings" and, supposedly, began shirking work. He denied that he had been dismissed.
In response to the report, some of Goyusov’s students staged a protest and threatened to boycott classes. Goyusov thanked his students for their support, but requested them to go back to their classes. Several faculty members also spoke up for their colleague.
Azerbaijan’s authoritarian government has long been accused of squashing any diversity of views; a charge it routinely denies. But, as RFE/RL pointed out this week, the pace of run-ins with those critical of the government seems to have picked up since President Ilham Aliyev's reelection to a third term last month.
Earlier this week, the Azadlyg newspaper, a longtime government critic and one of the few still in print, announced that it was shutting down its print operations since a hefty fine had driven it to the brink of bankruptcy.
Another opposition paper, Yeni Musavat, charged that the authorities are creating distribution hurdles.
Meanwhile, the prison doors are opening yet again. Amnesty International condemned the November 13 sentencing of Rashad Ramazanov, an anti-establishment blogger and writer, to nine years for supposed drug trafficking. Meanwhile, the editor of the opposition paper Nota Bene, Sardar Alibeyli, who has had brushes with police before, was sentenced to four years for hooliganism.
Both charges are recurring favorites in Azerbaijan for arrests of outspoken, critical journalists or bloggers. Yet the government sees nothing odd about that coincidence.
Many may charge that a Facebook status is treated as a grand act of defiance against the system, but the president, for his part, maintains that freedom of speech is "fully ensured."----Ilgar Mammadov formerly served on the board of the now-closed Open Society Foundation-Azerbaijan. EurasiaNet.org operates under the auspices of the Open Society Foundation-New-York-City, a separate part of the network of Open Society Foundations.