This article was originally published on Azerbaijan Internet Watch and is reproduced here under a content sharing agreement.
On September 27, as the intense fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan continues, the Azerbaijani authorities announced that they would begin to restrict internet access throughout the country. Internet users have reported having difficulties accessing social media platforms and communication applications in recent days.
Clashes between the two Armenia and Azerbaijan, which have claims over the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region and its seven adjacent territories, broke out on September 27. Both parties have reported casualties. Azerbaijan, which claimed earlier that it bombed the Contact Line in retaliation, said the next day that its forces had taken control of up to seven villages.
Although international stakeholders have called for an immediate end to the violence and a return to the negotiating table, so far neither side has shown interest.
At around 10 am on September 27 local time, the Ministry of Transport, Communications and Advanced Technologies issued a statement announcing that it had limited access to the internet “to prevent large-scale Armenian provocations.”
Indeed, some internet users said they had had trouble accessing social media:
Yalnız sosial şəbəkələrə girişi məhdudlaşdırırlar, deyəsən. İnternetdə problem yoxdur çünki. Başqa saytlara girmək olur.
– Sahilə Aslanova (@sayka_aslanova) September 27, 2020
It appears that they are only limiting access to social media platforms. There are no problems accessing the internet (sites). It is possible to access other websites.
The problems accessing the internet could have started a day earlier. Hebib Müntezir, an Azerbaijani journalist for the Berlin channel Meydan TV, posted on Facebook on September 26:
Azərbaycandakı internet istifadəçiləri ölkədəki internetin surətindən şikayət edirlər. Bir çoxu xeyli yavaşladığını, photo və videoların açılmadığını deyirlər. Sizdə vəziyyət necədir?
In Azerbaijan, internet users express complaints about internet speed. Many are saying that it is slower and that they have difficulty loading videos and images. What is the situation on your part?
At some point, all websites with the gov.az extension went down on September 27.
All .gov.az also websites are down including https://t.co/DbfCTYL84y and https://t.co/WJUKYKdrQR https://t.co/N20cYTu7c4
– Cavid ⛧ (@cavidaga) September 27, 2020
All .gov.az websites are down, including: https://mod.gov.az/ and https://twitter.com/arzugeybulla/status/1310206291659423748.
According to Access Now, a non-profit organization for the defense of digital rights that coordinates the campaign “Keep It On” (Let it continue) against internet blocks around the world, “public safety, national security or stopping fake news is used to justify the blockades ”.
Data collected by the campaign shows a significant increase in the number of crashes in recent years. In 2019 alone, there were 213 internet blackouts in 33 countries that lasted for a total of 1706 days, according to Access Now findings.
In Azerbaijan, these restrictions are not new. In April, the leader of an opposition party had his home and mobile internet services cut off, ahead of a television interview. Although outages are often reported as the result of technical incidents, there are cases where access is intentionally slowed down, especially around political events.
Although some Azerbaijani users consider such internet interruptions to be necessary to prevent the dissemination of unconfirmed information, others say that the government should not interfere with access in any way.
In the last days of September, access to government websites remained patchy, and users continue to report slowdowns in internet speed and access to social media platforms.