As the 6th Internet Governance Forum is about to close its doors, controversy has emerged over the next venue.
It has already been decided that the next IGF will be hosted by Azerbaijan, an oil-rich country in the South Caucasus.
The venue has not been discussed in a multi-stakeholder way (including not only governments and businesses but also civil society). And it is those who were excluded from the decision who have the most concerns about Azerbaijan.
Below are the main pros and cons of holding the IGF in Azerbaijan that civil society participants have discussed offline, on the margins and in the halls of this year's forum:
- Tunisia hosted the World Summit on the Information Society (the precursor to the Internet Governance Forum) in 2005. What happened five years later is widely known. The supporters of holding the IGF in Azerbaijan say that the IGF's multi-stakeholder model of discussion can actually trigger democratization processes and better electronic engagement among the netizens and bloggers. Yet, there's no hard evidence to prove that the Internet Governance Forum in 2005 had any direct impact on Tunisian digitalised civil society.
- The geographical and diplomatic advantages. Activists from Iran could come to the IGF and present their view on the development of the Internet.
- The main argument by those who are skeptical about the next IGF venue is that Azerbaijan is not a democratic country. According to Freedom House, an American human rights organization, Azerbaijan is a not free country both in terms of press freedom and in terms of democracy, and is only a “partly free” country in terms of Online Freedom. Ilham Aliyev, the president of Azerbaijan, had been called ‘the Predator’ of the Internet by Reporters Without Borders, a French human rights NGO (read the list of online media crackdowns). Global Voices has continuously reported the crackdowns on social media exercised by the Azeri government.
- Another issue is the possibility for travel of all parties and all representatives from all over the world. Due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Armenians can't enter Azerbaijan unless they receive a direct invitation from the Azeri Ministry of Foreign Affairs and can afford bodyguards. There are reports that people who travel to Armenia and later come to Azerbaijan are questioned about the purpose of their visits to Armenia.
- Logistical issues also concerns. The experts doubt Baku's capacity to provide enough affordable hotel accomodation during the Forum.
- Combined, these factors pose a challenge to the continuity of the IGF process.
(Editor's note: This post was corrected on October 3rd to clarify that the World Summit on the Information Society was held in Tunis in 2005, not the IGF.)