Freedom House: Internet freedom on the decline

Internet freedom around the world has declined, according to democracy watchdog Freedom House's latest report Freedom On The Net. The publication is an annually conducted study which, in 2018, covered 65 countries and 87% of internet users worldwide.

The rating is based on the examination of obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights. Depending on the extent to which authorities restrict internet and digital media freedom, countries are awarded a score from 0 (most free) to 100 (the least free).

Assessing developments between June 2017 and May 2018, the US-based organization found that internet freedom has worsened in 26 countries compared to 19 countries that saw improvements.

The report concludes that an increasing number of countries follow the model of China - 'the worst abuser of internet freedom in 2018' – to increase their power and control over the public sphere that is the Internet. Targeted disinformation and online propaganda create 'polarized echo chambers' that stifle the free debate of ideas, values, and policies, and the extensive collection of personal data chips away at the privacy of citizens, limiting their rights and freedoms.

Internet freedom in Azerbaijan

Freedom House first analyzed internet freedom in Azerbaijan in 2011, when it awarded it a score of 48 points. This rating has been steadily decreasing ever since, and with 60 points in 2018, the country is just one point short of being considered as Not Free.

The report highlights new legislative changes that allow authorities to block content that is deemed 'dangerous to the state and society' without obtaining a court order first and to fine citizens with up to $1,235 for disseminating 'illegal content' online. During the reporting period, numerous activists and journalists were detained, arrested, and sentenced to prison for expressing their critical opinions online, diminishing the space for freedom of expression on social media and other sites and leading to increased self-censorship of users. The report also flags the surge in digital attacks including spear phishing, hacking and DDoS attacks on opposition media, journalists and activists, particularly in the run-up to the April 2018 snap presidential elections.

The situation in the region

Out of the eight post-Soviet countries that were assessed for the 2018 report, only two are considered to be free. Georgia moved from Partly Free to Free in 2012 and leads the ranking with 25 points, while Armenia follows close behind with a score of 27. Following the Armenian Velvet Revolution in spring 2018, which leveraged social media, live streaming and communication apps to bring political change, the country's status improved from Partly Free to Free.

Apart from Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine are also considered to be Partly Free, scoring 38 and 45 points respectively. Kazakhstan (62 points), Russia (67 points) and Uzbekistan (75) are rated Not Free.

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