BAKU -- Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev says there are no restrictions on access to the Internet in Azerbaijan because of the government's desire to promote media freedom, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.
"Some countries impose restrictions on the Internet," he told a cabinet session on July 12. "[But] the Internet is free in Azerbaijan, which shows that we pay attention to freedom of the press."
He added that "those international organizations that want to see problems in Azerbaijan in this sphere should go and give recommendations to countries where the Internet is not free."
Freedom House recently ranked Azerbaijan as "partly free" in terms of Internet freedom.
Human rights activists link the recent arrest of some young Azerbaijani activists to their criticism of the government on social-media websites like Facebook and Twitter.
Both local and international organizations say there are no serious political obstacles to the use of the Internet in Azerbaijan, but media watchdogs criticize Baku for limiting freedom of the press and exerting pressure on journalists.
Communications Minister Ali Abbasov told the cabinet on July 12 that Internet usage in Azerbaijan is spreading rapidly.
"The speedy tempo [of its usage] makes it difficult even to pinpoint the exact number of Internet users in Azerbaijan," he said. "The World Economic Forum predicts the number of Internet users in Azerbaijan will reach around 50 percent by the end of 2013."
Abbasov said the percentage of broadband Internet users in Azerbaijan was close to 30 percent, which he said was 2.5 times higher than the average world rate.
But Azerbaijan Internet Forum President Osman Gunduz told RFE/RL that the figures Abbasov cited differed from data recorded by the country's Statistics Committee.
He said that according to Statistics Committee numbers, only 3-4 percent of the population had access to broadband Internet.
Gunduz said about 40 percent of the population in Azerbaijan had Internet access, including mobile-phone users.
Read more in Azeri here