A man shows his phone to law enforcement officers in Baku, Azerbaijan, on April 6, 2020. Anonymous hackers recently deleted nearly all of the content from the Azeri-language Facebook page of Meydan TV. (Reuters/Aziz Karimov)

Hackers delete social media content of independent Azerbaijani news outlet Meydan TV

On June 18, 2020, anonymous hackers deleted nearly all of the content from the Azeri-language Facebook page of Meydan TV, an independent Germany-based news outlet that covers Azerbaijan, according to Matthew Kasper, the outlet’s project head, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

The hackers deleted all of Meydan TV’s Facebook posts since 2018, as well as two months of their content from Instagram, Kasper told CPJ. The posts contained reporting that was also posted on Meydan TV’s YouTube channel, which was not hacked, and featured user comments that were unique to the outlet’s Facebook page, Kasper said.

Kasper said the attack may have been committed by hackers supportive of Azerbaijan’s government in response to Meydan TV’s recent coverage of protests against police brutality in Baku, the country’s capital, as well as Azerbaijan’s border crisis with Russia. Meydan TV is known for its critical reporting through a network of Azerbaijan-based correspondents covering state corruption, press freedom, and human rights violations, according to CPJ research.

On the morning of June 26, a video was published on a newly created Facebook page titled “Meydan TV sold out,” in which anonymous hackers boasted about breaking into Meydan TV’s social media accounts, stated that the outlet’s journalists “are not as anonymous as they think,” and threatened to commit more cyberattacks against the outlet, Kasper said.

CPJ reviewed screenshots of that video, but was unable to view it in full; Facebook took the video down in response to a complaint filed by Kasper, he said. He told CPJ the video was viewed about 13,000 times before it was deleted.

Hackers previously deleted content from Meydan TV’s Russian-language Facebook page and targeted its website with denial of service attacks when it covered anti-government protests in 2019, according to Kasper and reports.

In early 2018, Meydan TV’s Facebook account was hacked and the outlet lost about 100,000 subscribers to its Azeri, English, and Russian-language pages, about 20 percent of its followers, and all content posted since 2012 was deleted, as CPJ documented at the time.

In May 2019, police arrested Meydan TV reporter Seymur Hazi and authorities detained him for 15 days for alleged “minor hooliganism” and noncompliance with police orders, as CPJ documented at the time.