Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev is being sued by an opposition activist after being blocked from the leader’s official Facebook account.
Ahmad Mammadli, the 21-year-old chairman of the small opposition group Demokratiya-1918, filed a lawsuit on April 9 at a district court in Baku against Aliyev, arguing that the block means that he is deprived of access to public information.
At the same time he sent a formal inquiry to the president’s office asking for details on the blocking practice and how the social media pages are operated more generally. (He has not yet received a response.)
He said he has only been blocked from Aliyev’s account on Facebook, although he also has interacted – critically – with the president on Twitter and Instagram, as well.
"Some time ago I wanted to check some posts on the president's page, then I realized I couldn't enter,” he told Eurasianet. “I thought maybe it was a technical problem, I asked some friends to check it on their accounts, and they could all enter. I realized I was blocked.”
“I was mostly active on Instagram and Twitter, replying and retweeting,” he added. “On Facebook I would mostly write my own posts, tagging Aliyev."
Mammadli is not the only Azerbaijani activist blocked from Aliyev’s social media: Azerbaijani news outlet Mikroskop reported that it had found at least 20 political and public figures who had been blocked, mostly on Facebook but some on Twitter as well. That is to say nothing of the countless ordinary users who have been blocked after criticizing the president.
In the comment section of Mikroskop’s story on Facebook, some users reported that they went to the president’s page and found that they had been blocked, too. “Even people who just respond 😂 to a post are blocked, it’s nothing new,” one wrote.
Human rights activist Fuad Ahmadli says he found out in March that he was blocked from viewing Aliyev’s Facebook page. “He can’t just block and unblock anyone he wants,” Ahmadli told Mikroskop. “It’s a state resource funded by our taxes, so seeing us blocked on this resource was strange and saddening.”
Other of the activists who were blocked also are considering suing Aliyev, Mikroskop reported, though so far no other suits have been filed.
Critics argue that the practice is a breach of Azerbaijanis’ right to receive information as well as freedom to criticize the president publicly. “According to the constitution, all officials have an obligation to listen to citizens; in that framework, this too [blocking on social media] is an issue, violation of which falls under that category,” media lawyer Alasgar Mammadli told RFE/RL.
The case is not unique to Azerbaijan. Perhaps most famously, former United States President Donald Trump was sued successfully for blocking people on Twitter; American courts ruled that the president’s account was a public forum and that it violated the right to freedom of speech to block people because of their viewpoints.
In neighboring Georgia, opposition politician Giorgi Noniashvili sued the Ministry of Justice after it deleted a comment and blocked him from the ministry’s Facebook page. The ministry came up with a “trick” and unblocked him days before the trial was to begin, so that the judge dismissed the suit, Noniashvili told Eurasianet. He said he was aware of similar lawsuits that also were dismissed because of similar tactics.
It’s not even the first such lawsuit in Azerbaijan: In August 2021, prominent activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev reported that he had sued Aliyev in a district court in Baku after being blocked on all Aliyev’s social media accounts. “Perhaps if I wrote flattering comments on the President’s posts, liked all of them, and put heart emojis, he [Aliyev] wouldn’t block me,” he told RFE/RL then.
The court dismissed Hajiyev’s application days later, arguing that the activist mentioned in his letter that the pages were “probably managed by the presidential administration,” and thus Aliyev could not be held personally accountable and brought in as a defendant in the case. Hajiyev sued again, this time removing that part from his complaint. Thus far there has been no progress in the case, with no scheduled trials.
Ahmad Mammadli also isn’t keeping his hopes up. “I don’t have high expectations from local courts,” he told Eurasianet. “I’m prepared to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights because I’m also interested in what they have to say.”
With additional reporting by Nini Gabritchidze
Heydar Isayev is a journalist from Baku.