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Turgut Gambar, founding member of NIDA Civic Movement, speaks to CIVICUS about the growing restrictions on civil society in Azerbaijan and the government’s ongoing judicial harassment of activists. NIDA supports democraticisation through non-violent means and is comprised of 400 members, many of whom are young individuals. Recently, nine members of NIDA were arrested on politically motivated charges.
The crackdown on independent dissent and human rights activism appears to have escalated in Azerbaijan in recent months. Can you give us a brief overview of the recent legislative and extra-legal restrictions imposed on activists and civil society in the country?
The human rights situation in Azerbaijan has been problematic since the current regime came to power in the country in 2003. But the latest crackdown, which began in 2013 and has dramatically escalated in recent months, has been unprecedented in its magnitude and scope. Scores of people from different politically and socially active groups, including youth activists, political party leaders and members, NGO leaders, religious activists, journalists and bloggers have been subject to imprisonment and harassment. In addition to the escalating persecution of activists, the authorities have also adopted a number of restrictive laws to regulate the activities of NGOs.
24 October 2014. Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, and the Center for National and International Studies (CNIS) are gravely concerned at the unprecedented crackdown on civil society and democratic freedoms in Azerbaijan. This is particularly worrying given Azerbaijan’s recent appointment as chair of the Council of Europe, which serves as the region’s preeminent human rights body.
“Azerbaijan’s government is using a number of repressive tactics to silence dissent and destroy independent civil society in Azerbaijan in violation of Europe’s professed values,” said Leila Alieva, President of CNIS. “Since May 2014, the government has opened criminal investigations and frozen the assets of over 20 national and international groups including the Center for National and International Studies, Transparency International and Oxfam. As a result of the investigations, the vast majority of the organisations have ceased their operations or left the country, while the leaders of many of the national groups have been forced into exile.”
The upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Egypt on 5 November 2014 comes at a critical time for human rights, freedoms and independent Egyptian civil society, including rights defenders and democracy activists. As a group of organizations which have documented and spoken out against human rights violations in Egypt, we are urging your Government to use the UPR as an opportunity to challenge the authorities’ crackdown.