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.”
Most recently on October 17, Azerbaijan’s National Assembly passed far reaching amendments to the laws governing the operations of civil society organizations (CSOs). The amendments, currently pending approval from President Aliyev will empower relevant government ministries to individually approve all international grants to national civil society organisations. Ministries are permitted to determine the appropriateness of the grant and can deny approval if the support is determined to contravene the interests of the state.
“Coupled with onerous reporting and registration requirements adopted earlier this year, the current amendments will make it virtually impossible for independent civil society groups to operate in the country,” said Tor Hodenfield, Policy and Advocacy Officer, at CIVICUS. “Over the past few years, Azerbaijan’s government has been progressively closing down space for civil society, arresting and detaining activists at will. As chair of the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan is undermining the civil liberties and democratic principles of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Prior to its assumption of the chair of the Council of Europe in May this year, CIVICUS and CNIS had urged Azerbaijan’s government to release imprisoned activists. However, the situation has only deteriorated since then with a number of human rights defenders recently arrested or convicted for speaking out against government policies. They include activist, lawyer Intigam Aliyev of the Legal Education Society, Leyla Yunus, Director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD), and her husband, historian Arif Yunus, and Rasul Jafarov, chair of the civil society group Human Rights Club. Leyla Yunus and Rasul Jafarov were in the process of compiling a list of bloggers, activists, journalists, and opposition party members imprisoned in Azerbaijan.
CIVICUS and CNIS urge the members of the Council of Europe to urgently address violations of the European Convention on Human Rights with Azerbaijan’s government. Azerbaijan has an additional responsibility to uphold and promote Council of Europe values in its role as chair of the organisation.