“I started getting death threats and rape threats.”

ARTICLE | 6 March 2020

Swedwatch works with women human rights defenders challenging irresponsible business operations and rights abuses around the world and is highlighting their work ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2020.

In Azerbaijan, the government has systematically targeted
civil society and human rights defenders with politically motivated
charges and through laws and regulations. State control over the media curtails public discussion of human rights issues and the situation of human rights defenders.

Arzu Geybulla is an Azerbaijani journalist and human rights defender living in exile following a barrage of online threats linked to her journalism work.

How did the threats against you start?

They started with an interview about the work that I was doing with a Turkish-Armenian newspaper. Since our countries are in conflict I was seen as the enemy. I started getting really nasty threats online. It escalated quickly as all of a sudden I found myself in pro-government newspapers, news, Facebook posts and tweets. I started getting death threats and rape threats. It was not only tarnishing my image but also my journalism work and my career, my name and also my family. They even used my parents – calling them names and slut shaming my mother and saying things about my dad which were completely unbelievable.

How have these attacks affected you?

After these experiences, I felt really threatened by the people who were commenting. But I was also curious to see if they were really trolls or real people. I started seeing how everything was linked and that I was targeted
as part of a bigger campaign. This was in 2014, and there was a massive crackdown on civil society at that time.

The more I looked into the profiles of some of the harassers, the more details I found out. Many of those commenting were ruling party members or government employees but also random people. Over the years, as I documented the behaviour of these online commentators, I found out that the type of trolling these people were engaged in was more of a coordinated attack and it was not just random. I found out that the comments were copy/paste accusations copied from newspapers or from the speeches of the president or other government officials.

This interview is an excerpt from the Swedwatch report Defenders at Risk: Attacks on Human Rights and Environmental Defenders and the Responsibility of Business