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Azerbaijani President Signs Law Criminalizing Online Defamation

Students at a school in Azerbaijan peer at a computer monitor. (file photo)
BAKU -- Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has signed into law a bill passed by parliament that would criminalize what it calls defamatory and offensive views posted on the Internet.

The law makes it possible to launch criminal actions against online activists who post such statements, and to sentence them to as much as three years in prison.

Media rights groups have condemned the move.

Azerbaijan's Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety has issued a statement saying that the amendments "represent a major blow to freedom of expression ahead of a presidential election in the already tightly controlled environment."

The presidential vote is scheduled for October 16.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has rated all previous presidential elections in Azerbaijan as falling short of international standards.