Azerbaijan blocks US-funded websites, here's why
A court in Azerbaijan on Friday approved the government's request to block websites of a US-funded broadcaster and several news outlets critical of the country's strongman President Ilham Aliyev.
The Baku district court backed the claim of the ministry of transport and communications that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Azerbaijani branch, Radio Azadlyg, poses a "threat to the legitimate interests of the state and society".
The court, held in normal open session, also blocked internet-based Azerbaijan Saati TV, Turan TV, and Meidan TV.
The outlets' lawyers condemned the ruling as unlawful and unfounded.
"The verdict violates international legal norms," lawyer Samed Ragimov told AFP. "No publication referred to in the Azerbaijani authorities' lawsuit contained a breach of laws and public interests."
Earlier in April, Ganimat Zahid, the director of Turan TV denounced legal action against online media as "a move against freedom of speech."
Oil-rich Azerbaijan has faced strong international criticism for stepping up pressure on dissent and opposition media since Aliyev's election for a third term in 2013.
Aliyev, 55, fiercely denies any rights abuses.
The tightly-controlled ex-Soviet republic ranked 162 in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index released in April by media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders.
The group said that independent journalists and bloggers "are thrown in prison if they do not first yield to harassment, beatings, blackmail, or bribes".
Aliyev took over in 2003 after the death of his father Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB officer and communist-era leader who had ruled Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 1993.