by: Warner Speed
A new law restricting freedom of the press went into effect in Azerbaijan on January 1, 2022.
The law requires all journalists and media organizations to obtain legal approval of their operations from the government by registering with a newly created state media database. After entering the database, journalists must then pass a test administered by the state to receive a universal press pass required to communicate with state officials.
Members of the local press fervently opposed the bill as it worked its way through Azerbaijan’s legislative body, the Milli Majlis, in December. On December 28, journalists peacefully protesting the bill’s passage were attacked by police outside the legislature.
According to local journalist Alasgar Mammadli, the government has largely ignored protests from members of the media.
The law also forbids anyone with a criminal record from receiving state approval, a stipulation that could seriously hamper the work of many critical journalists who have been arbitrarily arrested in the past.
Reporters without Borders (RSF) has strongly criticized the new law, raising concerns that the Azerbaijani government will use journalists’ personal information registered in the new media database to crackdown on dissent and free speech.
Among the law’s provisions is a ban on the use of anyone’s image without their express permission. RSF has warned that the ban can be used to censor videos of government abuses such as electoral fraud and police violence. The law also contains a requirement that journalists present an objective account of facts and events, a provision that RSF claims was left intentionally vague to allow the judiciary to decide what constitutes acceptable reporting.
The new media law represents only the latest assault on press freedom in a nation that ranks 167out of 180 in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.