Statement:Mood darkens in Baku amid crackdown on civil society

The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) strongly condemns a recent wave of crackdown on dissent and calls on the government to end media and NGO witch hunt. Less than a year before the Azerbaijanis are to elect new president, groups that have played key roles in the promotion of fair and transparent elections, could be paralyzed by a new draft bill before parliament that would further restrict nongovernmental organizations.IRFS is deeply troubled by the authorities’ prospect of amending the current legislation in order to further restrict the activities of NGOs. According to proposed amendments, if NGOs receive any kind of donation above 200 AZN (in-cash or bank wire) without a proper agreement, they may face huge fines and confiscation of property. Simply put, if approved, the new legislation would allow government to easily close down unwelcome NGO in a few days.

The move follows a series of harsh punishments handed down for dissent, such as arrests of journalists, activists and in one case leader of political movement; huge fines imposed on peaceful protestors in Baku; and arrest and intimidation of protestors in Ismayilli.

 IRFS also states that the authorities of Azerbaijan illegally curtails the citizens’ right to freedom of association and assembly, which is contrary to the country’s obligations undertaken before the Council of Europe, OSCE and the United Nations.

As such, IRFS is deeply concerned over the recent negative trend when the hotels and conference centers refuse space for the NGOs to conduct their events.  For instance, not long ago Park Inn Hotel broke its commitment to rent premises to the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center shortly before the agreed date, and today (February 6, 2013) the a/m hotel created artificial obstacles for the events of two other civil society organizations, the IRFS and the National and International Studies Center.

IRFS fears the crackdown will further intensify as the country prepares for Presidential elections in October.  “The government is conducting a carefully coordinated witch hunt aimed at silencing their critics,” said Emin Huseynov, IRFS Chair. “Apparently, the authorities want to do away with organizations that watch for human rights violations”.

IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government stop putting pressure on NGOs, and ensure citizens’ right to freedom of association and assembly.

IRFS calls on the international organizations, namely, the Council of Europe and the OSCE to take more aggressive stance and exert pressure on Azerbaijani authorities to uphold the principles of freedom and democracy.

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