Azerbaijani Dissident Pushes for Freedom at Outset of Internet Governance Forum in Baku
This year's Internet Governance Forum, where governments, international organizations, companies, and NGOs meet to discuss the future of Internet policy, begins on 6 Novemeber in Baku, Azerbaijan. It is an important event that allows stakeholders to come together to discuss Internet trends, growth, and openness. Though Azerbaijan's president has extolled the virtues of the Internet in the leadup to the conference, the IGF host for this year remains a closed society. Last week, for example, legislators passed a law that vastly increased fines for participating in protests.
Emin Milli, an Azerbaijani blogger, advocate, and lawyer, knows well the abuses in his country, as he was imprisoned for 17 months in 2009 and 2010. (Just before his arrest, he had helped make a video of another blogger wearing a donkey suit and giving a "press conference", a stunt meant to make light of a recent government purchase of donkeys from Germany.) In his letter, Milli addresses President Ilham Aliyev, making a passionate case for reform in his country:
You once suggested in a speech that the internet is free in Azerbaijan. I am sure you will repeat this message at this global forum. It is true that people in Azerbaijan are free to use the internet, but it is also a fact that they can be severely punished afterwards for doing so. We have reports indicating that the government monitors all our internet communication carried through Azerbaijani providers without acquiring a warrant or notifying the individual or provider. Today many of our fellow citizens do not dare to speak out against your policies, online or offline. You have successfully managed to silence them.
People in Azerbaijan live in fear. We fear for our lives, we fear for our jobs, we fear for the lives and jobs of our fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, we fear for our friends. We fear every time when someone close to us dares to disagree with you. We also pay a high price when we dare not to fear.
Read the letter in full at the Independent. Coming from a dissident formerly imprisoned for words he distributed online, Milli's letter is particularly powerful as companies, government officials, and activists converge on Azerbaijan.