EU-Azerbaijan human rights discussions: briefing note on civil society concerns
The EU and Azerbaijan will hold a new round of their annual human rights-focused discussions at a meeting in Brussels on 3-4 February 2014. In a briefing note to the EU for this meeting, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) documents civil society concerns with regard to the widening crackdown on dissent that began in Azerbaijan in the run-up to the October 2013 presidential election and has continued in the post-election period. The briefing note draws primarily on information reported by Azerbaijani and other member groups of the Civic Solidarity Platform, an international NGO coalition to which IPHR belongs, and highlights the following issues which the EU is asked to raise prominently during the meeting:
- Reinforced restrictions on NGOs stifling civil society. Legislation adopted in February 2013, as well as another package of amendments passed by the parliament in December 2013 that is currently pending signature by the president impose new stringent requirements regarding the finances and activities of NGOs, with harsh penalties foreseen for non-compliance, including stiff fines of several thousand EUR and broadened grounds for suspending and liquidating organizations. This new legislation was adopted in the context of increasingly hostile rhetoric against NGOs by public figures and growing pressure on independent groups, in particular those that have failed to obtain registration in the country’s complicated and lengthy NGO registration procedure that is open to abuse by authorities in relation to inconvenient groups.
- An increasingly hostile approach toward peaceful protests. The authorities continueto require advance permission to stage demonstrations and to arbitrarily deny permission to hold protests in central locations. In responses condemned by members of the Civic Solidarity Platform and other NGOs, peaceful anti-government protests held without authorization in Baku prior to the 2013 presidential elections were forcefully dispersed by police and organizers and participants were arrested and punished. Legal amendments adopted in November 2012 and May 2013 drastically increased sanctions for staging unauthorized protests, with these sanctions now amounting to fines of several thousand EUR and administrative detention up to 60 days.
- A wave of new cases of politically motivated detention and imprisonment in the pre- and post-election period. According to local human rights groups, dozens of individuals are currently behind bars for politically motivated reasons, including human rights defenders, journalists and social media activists. A prominent example is that of human rights defender Anar Mammadli, who was arrested in December 2013 in apparent retaliation for the efforts of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center that he chairs to expose violations during the presidential elections. He has been held in pre-trial detention for more than a month on tax evasion and other charges. Another case that has been widely denounced both by Azerbaijan’s civil society and the international community is that of human rights defender and journalist Hilal Mammadov, who was sentenced to five years in prison last autumn in a criminal case believed to have been motivated by his defence of minority rights and his work for a minority-language newspaper.
The full text of the briefing note, which includes recommendations and links to further information, is available here.