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European Officials at Internet Governance Forum in Baku Report their Laptops Hacked

BY Lisa Goldman | Friday, November 9 2012

Azerbaijan's hosting of the 7th annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF) has turned into something of a fiasco, with EU officials reporting their laptops hacked and an official from another European organization visiting the city during the forum for the purpose of lambasting the government for restricting freedom of speech and human rights.

The UN-sponsored event that takes place each year, with the purpose of discussing global Internet policies and freedom. Given Azerbaijan's extremely poor record in human rights and freedom of expression, the decision to allow Baku to host this year's IGF elicited protests from various human rights organizations.

Repressive, authoritarian states have hosted previous IGFs — Mubarak's Egypt in 2009 and Ben-Ali's Tunisia in 2005 — but this year's controversy has been significantly ratcheted up by two events: An official from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) visited Baku during the conference "to deliver scathing criticism of Azerbaijan’s poor record on freedom of speech"; and two EU officials attending the event reported having their laptops hacked.

On the visit of the OSCE official, Radio Free Europe reports:

In Baku on November 7, Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, called the crackdown by Azerbaijani authorities on journalists, rights supporters, and protesters an “embarrassing trend” for the oil-rich Caucasian nation.

The EU officials who had their laptops hacked in Baku tweeted about the incident; their tweets were picked up and reported by ZDNet:

The officials both work for digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes, who gave a speech at the forum on Wednesday in which she lambasted the Azeri government for spying on activists online, and promised to promote tools for helping journalists avoid surveillance.

"Great, now my Mac has been hacked," Kroes's spokesman, Ryan Heath, tweeted on Thursday morning. "Also @msprotonneutron [policy officer Camino Manjon] — I wonder who could have done that? #Azerbaijan."

On Wednesday Global Voices Advocacy posted about the severe limitations on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan, with a link to an open letter from Azerbaijani human rights activists and Express Online Initiative. The authors express concern not only over the IGF's being hosted by a country that has violated "UN main principles," but also at the IGF's refusal to allow Express Online Initiative to distribute its pamphlets on Internet freedom (or the lack thereof) in Azerbaijan.

[T]he Secretariat tried to prevent distribution of the Expression Online Initiative’s reports Searching for Freedom: Online Expression in Azerbaijan and The Right to Remain Silent: Freedom of Expression in Azerbaijan ahead of the 7th Internet Governance Forum. The IGF coordinator told our representatives “You are not allowed to distribute these reports within IGF premises.” Our attempt to distribute these reports, which examine issues in Azerbaijan which are directly relevant to the IGF, were perceived by the Secretariat as an attempt to “attack one of the stakeholder group,” i.e. the Azerbaijani government.

Meanwhile, EU digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes gave a strongly worded speech at the forum on Wednesday, "...in which she lambasted the Azeri government for spying on activists online, and promised to promote tools for helping journalists avoid surveillance."

The next day, the two EU officials at the conference, both of whom work for Kroes, tweeted that their laptops had been hacked.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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