Statement: Urgent action needed to stop new legislation threatening survival of independent NGOs in Azerbaijan

February 19th, 2013

The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) condemns the Azerbaijani parliament’s decision of February 15, 2013 to pass a series of regressive amendments to national legislation that would significantly restrict the activities of independent NGOs and would threaten their very survival. IRFS urges President Aliyev to prevent the already alarming human rights situation in the country from becoming worse by refraining from signing these amendments into law.

“As the government’s crackdown on critical voices continues, fewer and fewer NGOs remain willing to work on issues related to democracy and human rights. If signed into law, these amendments could serve as the final nail in the coffin for independent civil society in Azerbaijan,” said IRFS Director Emin Huseynov.

The amendments adopted by the Azerbaijani parliament provide for changes to the law on Grants, the law on Freedom of Religion, and the law on NGOs. They stipulate that NGOs receiving donations in any form of a value greater than 200 AZN (approximately 255 USD or 190 EUR) without a formal agreement could face massive fines and confiscation of their property. Simply put, if signed into law, the new legislation would make it possible for the government to quickly and easily close down critical NGOs.

IRFS views this move as part of a broader crackdown by the authorities to limit the space for the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association in the country ahead of October’s presidential election. In the space of only a few months, the authorities have already imposed bans on freedom of assembly, increased penalties for demonstrators, carried out mass arrests of protesters, issued warnings to critical media outlets, and interfered with the activities of NGOs both in Baku and Azerbaijan’s regions.

IRFS calls on President Aliyev to refrain from signing these regressive amendments into law, and urges the government to stop its attack on independent civil society. IRFS further 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.