Thursday, February 19, 2009

Government shuts Day.Az

I learned this afternoon that Day.Az, which is probably the most read news portal in Azerbaijan, has been shut down by the government. My information - from a source who works with journalists -is that the news portal was closed after it published an interview with former Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky. In the interview, Berezovsky charged that Putin was siphoning off Russian cash for his own account.

Putin reportedly called the Azerbaijan president personally and demanded the closure of the site.

Of course, I can't verify this account and I can't read the interview. It might be like this one, published by SkyNews. The Day.Az site is shut. On one link, a reader is informed:

В связи с техническими проблемами, причины которых пока выясняются, сайт временно недоступен. Roughly this says -"Because of technical problems, which are still being explained, the site is temporarily inaccessible."

Another link leads to the announcement - Проект прекратил свое существование. Literally - the project existence has ended.

That sounds pretty final - and according to my source- this decision is not a temporary shut-down. Previously, the Internet radio site run by the same outfit ran into some problems with the government - but those were temporary problems.

I have met dealt with the owner of the site, and found him to be an extremely astute businessman. In my first interview with him, he pointedly referred to himself as a businessman, not a journalist. And his site usually walked a careful line- printing material that was critical of the government - but not too critical. Elnur was only too aware of the power that the government could exert on his operations.

People who don't work in the field sometime think that journalists who publish on the Internet have some sort of invincibility, some sort of magic cloak that protects them from repression. They don't. The journalists themselves can be attacked or killed, as we have recently seen in Russia. If the outfit is run as a business, then it is vulnerable to boycotts. And apparently it's not that hard to shut down the a site.

The political implications of this are yet unclear. While Day.Az was widely read, my impression is that it was not a mass-market source of information. Nonetheless, one has to wonder how the president's decision will resonate. Russia is not regarded as some sort of friendly big brother here. More often, it is regarded as a former colonial occupier, resented for its role in fomenting the Nagorno-Karabakh war. How does it look for the former Russian president to be dictating media policy to the Azerbaijan president? How would Mexicans, for example, feel if President Obama ordered the closure of some media outlet in that country?

We'll see. For the meantime, the Day.Az project has ceased to operate.

(By the way - just in case you're interested in how the site used to look - here's a page from October, 2007, fetched from the archive maintained at the "Wayback Machine.")


Onnik Krikorian said...

Yet interestingly, no theories linking it to the referendum...

Eric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric said...

The ostensible reason isn't related to the referendum - but clamping down on the media is consistent with the goal of getting the desired results from the vote.

Also - I continue to wonder about the murder of the general - and how that fits into the whole scene. I have my theories - but they are just that.....

JDTapp said...

Have you seen today's New York Times' piece mentioning Azerbaijan amongst the discussion of fostering democracy?

Ani said...

JD and I must be reading the New York Times simultaneously--I just appended a link to that article on Onnik's Global Voices piece. Perhaps we'll have to modify "Yes we can" to "Maybe we can if we have time after we get the other problems solved"? (sigh)

Eric said...

No - I didn't see this piece. Thanks for the tip! I'm still adjusting after coming back to USA Friday.

rihad said... (mostly in Russian) is back online under a different disguise:
Interestingly, the forum administration deleted the recently opened topic where users asked what might have caused the interruption.
So long, freedom of speech in Azerbaijan.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip. Yes, as you point out - a step back for freedom of speech in Azerbaijan. Of course - to be realistic - freedom of speech has been pretty tightly restricted for some time. It just looks like the grip is tightening rapidly!

rihad said... came back online today with no comment explaining the delay at all. Anar Mamedkahanov is no longer the owner of the portal. isn't linked to by anymore (dead link), now it's a web forum in its own right: Interestingly, the much debated interview with Boris Berezovsky has been deleted.

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