Official: Azerbaijan committed to Internet freedom

An Azerbaijani official has said the country's principled and consistent position is to create suitable conditions to fully ensure freedom of the Internet, in remarks after criticism by a senior European Commission representative.

European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes recently cited control over the Internet and online media in Azerbaijan and restrictions on their work.

Elnur Aslanov, the Presidential Administration's Political Analysis and Information Provision Department head, said the ongoing Internet Governance Forum, organized in Baku jointly by the UN and the Azerbaijani government, reaffirms the importance that the Azerbaijani state attaches to the Internet and its free use.

Aslanov noted that it is due to the fact that the Internet has become "an integral part of human activity, an irreplaceable source of human development and innovation".

"Independent activity of the Internet is its main value, and any society, both state bodies and institutions of civil society, should comprehensively benefit from that," he said.

According to Aslanov, the European Commission vice president's statement contradicts Azerbaijan's intentions and activities and raises fair questions about its purpose.

"Compared to most world countries, Azerbaijan ranks high among countries whose citizens have Internet access [65 percent]," he said.

Rise of the figure in the near future is inevitable due to the steady increase in living standards of the Azerbaijani population.

"Opportunities for obtaining information are expanding day by day," Aslanov said. "However, the information that the European institution's official refers to proceeds from a biased position. It is necessary to communicate in the field of electronic media not only with people with opposition views, but also with various media representatives, regardless of their political positions, for accurate evaluation of the objective reality. Unfortunately, some European officials forget about this principle."

He said that unlike some Western countries, Azerbaijan spends available financial resources on projects aimed at social and economic development of the country, instead of tracking and getting information online through espionage.

According to Aslanov, free access to websites and free expression of views by citizens on social networks has a significant impact on the relations between the state and citizens.

He believes that imposition of bans and censorship on Internet activity in numerous countries has eventually led to the faltering of public confidence in government agencies and has proved to be ineffective. Applying new technologies provides an opportunity to get necessary information while overcoming such obstacles.

"We have always been against restrictions in the Internet and today we adhere to this position," Aslanov said. "One of the important functions of the Internet is to ensure communication between state bodies and citizens through electronic technology. Due to the fact that freedom of citizens is the essence of liberal democracy, free access to Internet resources conditions emergence of a new concept, 'online citizenship'. Azerbaijan, which is committed to democratic principles and integration into European institutions, while using new capabilities of the Internet, is preparing a new period of its economic, political and social development."