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The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) denounces detention of prominent human rights defender Leyla Yunus, treason charges brought against her and her husband, Arif, considering the move to be part of the severe persecution of civil society.This trumped-up legal assault on Yunus is the most recent in a host of troubling moves by the Azerbaijani government that demonstrate how far Azerbaijan has strayed from international standards of human rights and rule of law.
“Leyla Yunus is the latest victim of the Azerbaijani authorities’ merciless campaign of repression in the wake of 2013 Presidential Election”, said IRFS CEO Emin Huseynov.
The move comes on the heels of the Presidential office-orchestrated campaign against civil society that has included a state-controlled media smear campaign; the raids on NGOs; confiscation of equipment; arrest of NGO bank accounts which led to de facto shutdown of several NGOs; the intimidation and legal pursuit of NGO workers inside and outside the country, including IRFS partners—International Media Support, IREX and National Endowment for Democracy.
“As the attack against civil society in Azerbaijan continues unabated, Azerbaijan’s partners need to take a stronger stand against regime’s systematic destruction of civil society and attempts to silence and marginalize critics,” continued Huseynov. “Specifically, we call for the steps that would impose a visa ban and asset freeze against Azerbaijani officials involved in gross human rights abuses.”
The raids – in which officials from the prosecutor’s office, tax inspectorate and ministry of justice comb through registration and financial documents –are being conducted under controversial amendments to the law, requiring NGOs to register their grants within Ministry of Justice.
While Azerbaijani tax and Ministry of Justice do have powers to supervise that non-profit entities comply with legislation in force, the context in which the current NGO inspections are being carried out coupled with their scope and nature can only create the impression that they are aimed at intimidating and putting pressure on NGOs, in particular those that benefit from foreign grants for public advocacy work on human rights and related issues.
Notably, state-affiliated NGOs and foundations, whose annual turnover many times higher than the one of human rights NGOs, are not subject to any control or restriction. In fact, they enjoy complete impunity for violations of Azerbaijan’s legislation which demands systematic reporting on income and operations.
The current wave of NGO inspections follows the adoption of a series of new laws negatively affecting Azerbaijan’s civil society since President Aliyev assumed his third term in October 2013. Taken together, these laws have contributed to a seriously worsening climate for civil society.
Since President Aliyev assumed his third term in October 2013, we have witnessed a wave of repressive measures in the country that have sought to silence civil society:
As clearly seen from this chronology, Azerbaijan’s chairmanship in the Council of Europe top decision making body, its Committee of Ministers goes hand in hand with the wave of crackdown against civil society — which is much harsher than in recent years. To this end, IRFS calls on Azerbaijan’s partners – the Council of Europe in particular– to speak out and call for an immediate end to these abuses.
We also appeal to the international community to stand firmly by Azerbaijan’s civil society at this time and to speak out against the new attempt to intimidate and discredit, in particular, groups that rely on foreign funding to promote respect for human rights and other universal values.