Azerbaijani Lawmakers Urged to Reject Proposed NGO Law

Washington

Freedom House calls on Azerbaijan’s parliament to reject a package of five legislative amendments proposed earlier this month that would severely restrict the ability of both domestic and international non-governmental organizations to work in the country. 

Despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of association, the draft law would require all non-governmental organizations operating in Azerbaijan to register with the state and introduce fines for anyone speaking or acting on behalf of an unregistered group. In addition, the draft law expands the grounds on which the government could refuse to register an NGO. 

Among other restrictions, the bill would limit the international funding that Azerbaijani non-governmental organizations could receive, a serious impediment in a country where there is no significant domestic source of funding other than the government. The amendments would also give the Azerbaijani government more authority to refuse registration to foreign NGOs if they are mostly government funded and would prevent foreigners from registering NGOs unless they are legal residents of Azerbaijan.

"Freedom House is dismayed by the declining state of freedom and consolidation of power we've witnessed in Azerbaijan over the last few years," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director.  "This new draft NGO law threatens to further marginalize the existing institutions of democratic accountability in Azerbaijan."

Azerbaijan received downward trend arrows over the last three years in Freedom in the World, Freedom House's annual survey of political rights and civil liberties. These declines were caused by increased government suppression of the media and growing efforts by President Ilham Aliyev and the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party to monopolize power, as reflected in a flawed presidential election in 2008 and a push to eliminate presidential term limits.

"It is symptomatic of the Azerbaijani government’s approach that it failed to consult with civil society groups before drafting this legislation, which parliament should reject in its current form," said Jeff Goldstein, Freedom House senior program manager for Central Asia and the Caucasus. "We strongly urge the government to openly consult with Azerbaijani civil society groups to prepare a draft that will enable rather than restrict their ability to contribute to the country's development and democratization."

Azerbaijan is ranked Not Free in the 2009 edition of Freedom in the World and in the 2009 version of Freedom of the Press.

For more information on Azerbaijan, visit:

Freedom in the World 2009: Azerbaijan
Freedom of the Press 2008: Azerbaijan
Nations in Transit 2008: Azerbaijan

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Azerbaijan since 1991.

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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