Following a recent ban on foreign broadcasts in the country, the content of a leading news site considered more independent than most in Azerbaijan was replaced on Thursday with a message informing readers that the “project is closed.”
A day later, after the authorities denied allegations that they were behind the disappearance of day.az, a new message instead explained that the site was down for technical reasons and would reappear after 25 February.
Blogs by media specialists and analysts in Azerbaijan, however, were not convinced. In an extended post on the new Frontline Club blog, for example, Global Voices author Ali S. Novruzov details the sequence of events.
At first, day.az and its sister sites (e.g. dayaz.com and today.az) displayed a comment that the website is shut down for “unknown reasons”; then – “due to technical problems”; and then finally – “project is closed”. Now the comment reads: “Site is temporarily unavailable due to technical problems” and “will be back on 25th February.” Besides, as Osman Gunduz of Azerbaijan Internet Forum reported, details about day.az was surprisingly deleted from the National Domain Database [UPDATE: Now, they have reappeared. For more, visit whois.az ].
The blog goes on to say that many believe the site's disappearance was politically motivated. Writing on Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines, Arzu Geybullayeva also reports the same.
Today, Azerbaijan saw yet again, how far the government can go in its quest for achieving full power over freedom of speech in this country.
Some argue that it is the interview the website published with Berezovski who criticized the [former] President of Russian Federation- Vladimir Putin of corruption and having accumulated 40 billion dollars in foreign accounts.
Whatever the argument maybe, the picture is quite clear in Azerbaijan- the more you show you are different from the flock of sheep in this country the more punishment you get. Some get arrested, some get banned, some get silenced forever.
Meanwhile, writing on Thoughts on the Road, an American journalist based in Azerbaijan offered more details on allegations that Russia was behind the move.
[...] 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. [...] The Day.Az site is shut.
[...] 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. [...] How does it look for the former Russian president to be dictating media policy to the Azerbaijan president? [...]
Since then, in an update on his Frontline Club post, Novruzov says that a news agency has been informed by an anonymous official that concerns over relations with Russia were partly behind the move.
But even if the site will return, Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines remains unconvinced by the official explanation. Moreover, the blog is uncertain whether day.az will ever be the same.
Apparently the website was only closed for internal reconstruction work and no political intentions or factors were at stake when the portal got shut down yesterday. [...]
Then why the website didn't notify its readers in advance (which it usually does whenever there is any kind of work on the portal) and why the statements explaining the reason for closure only appeared several hours later?
Thus, for the reasons unknown or known but untrue the future of day.az remains unclear. It is likely that the website will resume its work, but what is not known is whether it will resume its work as day.az before shutting down- objective, precise and trustworthy online news portal…