Azerbaijan’s government has begun to block internet pornography sites. While this is far from the first time the country has tried to control what websites its citizens access, it does appear to be the first time it's restricting pornography.
The blocking was carried out by the Electronic Security Service of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technologies, the news service Turan reported on August 15. The move was reportedly made due to a local court decision, but no further details were released.
In December last year, Azerbaijan’s parliament adopted a new set of laws penalizing the online dissemination of “banned” materials. The legislation referred to a list of “prohibited information” that was first put into use by Azerbaijani courts in May 2017 authorizing the government to censor online information including terrorist propaganda, suicide videos, pornography and weapons-production manuals, but also gambling and defamation.
Activists say the legislation has merely served as a cover for the government to continue its widespread crackdown on independent media. Many of the websites blocked under the new legislation included stories on government corruption and the country’s rising suicide rates.
It's not clear why the ban on pornography was implemented, but it has generated some speculation online.
Journalist Habib Muntazir of Meydan TV noted that on August 15, a Facebook parody page, Politicians of Çayxana, photo-shopped the logo of the pornographic website Pornhub onto a picture of President Ilham Aliyev reprimanding the head of the state energy company for the country’s recent blackouts. The caption read: “Boss punishes sexy secretary.” (As of when this blog post was published, on August 17, the Politicians of Çayxana Facebook page was unavailable.)
Social media denizen Cavid Aga noted that the blocking was uneven: many of the world’s most popular pornographic sites, including Pornhub, remain active in the country. Meanwhile, one of the blocked sites, Xnxx.com, has actually grown in popularity since it was blocked, Aga found.
Bradley Jardine is a freelance journalist who covers the Caucasus.