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Azerbaijan's Coronavirus Disinformation Law Could Curb Press Freedom, OSCE Says

Harlem Desir, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media (file photo)
Harlem Desir, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media (file photo)

The media-rights watchdog for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has raised concerns about legislation passed recently in Azerbaijan with the stated aim of fighting against coronavirus disinformation.

"I fully understand the need to combat false information during a health emergency," Harlem Desir, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, said on March 25.

But Desir said the amendment to Azerbaijan's law on information "should not impede the work of journalists and their ability to report on the pandemic."

"The media has a key role to play in providing important information to the public in this situation and to combat 'fake news' on the crisis," Desir said.

The amendment was adopted by Azerbaijan's parliament on March 17.

It says the owner of any Internet information resource is required to prevent the publication of false information online.

This entails information that "poses a threat to the life, health, and property of the population, or public safety," as well as to "the work of life support facilities, financial, transport, communication, industrial, energy, and social infrastructure."

Desir said the legislation was far-reaching because it extends to publication of information unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic that could lead to situations deemed by the authorities as "dangerous to the public."

As of March 25, 93 people had been officially diagnosed with coronavirus in Azerbaijan. Ten of them recovered and two died.

Azerbaijan is ranked 166th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service
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