Statement: IRFS condemns Head of Presidential administration for the anti-NGO speech

March 16th, 2013

Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) strongly condemns Head of Presidential Administration Ramiz Mehdiyev for his anti-NGO speech which poses a serious threat to civil society’s freedom of association and freedom of expression, in violation of international human rights standards and conventions ratified by Azerbaijan.IRFS calls on the authorities to take immediate steps to guarantee an enabling environment for civil society and citizen participation in accordance with the Azerbaijan’s Constitution and state obligations under international law.

The concerns triggered by the pre-election crackdown have been exacerbated by Mehdiyev’s speech, in which he accused foreign donors of “unlawfully” financing Azerbaijani NGOs. IRFS believes that Mehdiyev is setting a stage for a larger clampdown on independent NGOs by claiming they are part of a foreign plot to destabilize the country.

The anti-NGO speech of the head of presidential administration follows the president’s signature on the bill that will minutely regulate NGOs activities, management and finances, making it easy to harass or close them down on some technicality if the authorities take a dislike to them.IRFS previously expressed its grave concern over the implications of this law and in particular its effects on the work of human rights organizations in the country.

There is not enough funding from local sources for most human rights NGOs to survive, so they largely depend on western donors. This gives the authorities another means to control them, by blocking transfers of money from abroad.

Mehdiyev’s speech sounds very close to the Russia’s so-called ‘anti-agent’ law, which labels foreign-funded local NGOs as foreign agents involved in political activity in Russia.

“Both anti-NGO law and official rhetoric set an ominous tone for human rights and political freedoms in Azerbaijan”, comments IRFS chair, Emin Huseynov. “Instead of conforming to international legal instruments, Azerbaijani government follows Russia’s policy of brutal crackdown on independent civil society”, Huseynov said.

IRFS considers the government’s anti- NGO policy to be a brutal violation of Azerbaijani people’s right to freedom of association envisaged in Article 58 of the Republic of Azerbaijan’s Constitution, and right to freedom of assembly and association envisaged in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Furthermore, IRFS is particularly concerned with these incidents, since it follows the overall trend of continued intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and civil society activists ahead of October’s presidential elections.

The government must guarantee an enabling environment for civil society and citizen participation in accordance with the Azerbaijan’s Constitution and state obligations under international law. IRFS therefore calls on the international community, in particular the Council of Europe and the OSCE, to take a stronger stance and exert greater pressure on the Azerbaijani authorities to fulfill their international human rights obligations.

IRFS calls on the United Nations Human Rights Council to show an immediate reaction to the Azerbaijani government’s ongoing attack on freedom of association, which once again demonstrates Azerbaijan’s failure to implement recommendationsfrom the 4th session of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2009. As such, the authorities have not taken any single effort to implement recommendations to promote a culture of human rights among the society, guarantee freedom of assembly and association and respect the work of human rights defenders(recommendations #A-2 and A-18)

IRFS also reiterates its appeal to the authorities to ensure that civil society organizations can work freely and without fear of harassment and to demonstrate a commitment to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.