Proposed amendments to the legislation on NGO activities are aimed at total destruction of civil society and the complete suppression of human rights and freedoms. This was main idea of the urgent meeting of civil society held at the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) on February 7th.

The meeting was held as a result of parliamentary committee approval of draft amendments to tighten control over grants and donations received by NGOs, religious structures and other organizations. Participants rejected arguments by supporters of the amendments that they would ensure the transparency of civil society. “If we talk about transparency, it should concern all. So, if the Ministry of Justice does not respond to a request by an NGO, it must pay a fine from 90 to 180 AZN, while if an NGO does not respond to a request by the Ministry of Justice, it is fined 18,000 AZN. Even commercial organizations are not fined such amounts,” said lawyer Alasgar Mammadli. Lawyer Asabali Mustafayev said that the amendments are aimed at the destruction of NGOs. “The penalties for not registering grants mean that NGOs operating without state registration will be eliminated in the first phase. In the next phase, authorities will re-register NGOs and will not register unwelcome NGOs. It is necessary to prepare a parallel bill to ensure that state registration of NGOs is implemented in a simplified form based on notifications, as well as to achieve on-line registration of grants, as contracts of NGOs with foreign donors are often signed in an electronic form and local notaries do not certify them,” suggested Mustafayev. Arastun Orujlu, Director of the East-West Studies Center, believes that there is no sense in looking for logic in the activity of authorities. “This is a reaction to the momentary situation, namely spontaneous popular uprisings in the region. It is no secret that civil society institutions comprise people with high intellectual abilities and capacity to resist repressive policy. Therefore, the authorities want to prevent civil society activists from going to the regions,” he said. Ogtay Gulaliyev, head of the Society for Democratic Reforms, said that the authorities carry out a total assault on human rights in the country. “They do not want us to go to the regions and meet people. I was warned that I would be arrested on charges of “inciting unrest” if I go, he said, and called upon international organizations not to turn blind eyes to the pressure on civil society. “It’s time for them to decide whether they are with the repressive regime or the civil society?” After the PACE rejected Strasser’s report on political prisoners in Azerbaijan, there has been a new wave of repression and new political prisoners,” said Gulaliyev. IRFS Director Emin Huseynov believes that Azerbaijan will follow the examples of Russia and Belarus.”Our government copies repressive measures of their Russian counterparts, where penalties for participation in unsanctioned demonstrations were toughened, and those who receive foreign aid are called foreign agents. All this serves only one purpose, to silence the civil society in the run-up to presidential elections. In democratic countries civil society performs the function of civil control, while in Azerbaijan the proposed amendments are aimed at tightening control on the activities of civil society” said Emin Huseynov. Head of Law and Development Public Union, Hafiz Hasanov, believes that the amendments idea came from the authorities, not from parliamentarians.”International organizations’ attitude to these events is inadequate. They’d better change their policy of issuing ineffective statements” said Hasanov. The discussions resulted in the adoption of a decision to appeal to the parliament to withdraw the said reactionary amendment. If this appeal is ignored, another appeal will be sent to the president to veto the reactionary law. An appeal will also be made to international organizations to influence the authorities to prevent the adoption of amendments aimed at stifling civil society. Civil society representatives announced that they reserve the right to start mass protests if the authorities do not heed to their demands.

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