Joint NGO Letter to the EU officials about Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev attends Brussels to discuss a new partnership agreement with the top EU officials. The Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum together with 75 other NGOs signed a letter urging the Presidents of the European Council and European Commission, and High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to use this high-level visit to insist that President Aliyev commits to concrete, lasting human rights reforms in Azerbaijan.
President Aliyev’s visit takes place following the EU Foreign Affairs Council’s authorization of a mandate for negotiating a new treaty between the EU and Azerbaijan. At the same time, the Azerbaijani government restricts the space for independent activism, critical journalism, and opposition political activity by imprisoning and harassing many activists, prominent human rights defenders, and journalists, as well as by adopting laws and regulations restricting the activities of independent groups and their ability to secure funding.
NGOs in Azerbaijan face serious obstacles to operating independently due to excessive legal and regulatory restrictions. The Cabinet of Ministers regulations issued in January 2017, as part of the government’s review of laws regulating NGOs and donors, offer limited prospect for fundamentally improving the operational environment for NGOs. Although the new regulations simplify some procedures for registration of foreign grants, they leave intact the large discretion of the authorities to arbitrarily deny their registration.
In light of this, in the upcoming meetings with President Aliyev, the NGOs urge the EU officials to insist on:
- The immediate and unconditional release of wrongfully imprisoned human rights defenders, journalists, civil society and political activists, first and foremost among them Ilgar Mammadov, a prominent opposition political activist. The government of Azerbaijan has ignored repeated demands from the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers for Ilgar Mammadov’s release, as part of the implementation of the 2014 European Court of Human Rights judgment in his case.
- Reform of laws and regulations governing nongovernmental organizations and their access to independent funding, in accordance with recommendations made by the Venice Commission and the corrective actions required by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative;
- Immediate and enforceable guarantees that the EU and its institutions are able to fund independent civil society organizations without undue hindrance;
- An end to politically-motivated prosecutions of human rights defenders, journalists, civil society and political activists;
- The quashing of convictions against human rights defenders, journalists, civil society and political activists who have been released, and the removal of ongoing restrictions on their freedom of movement;
- Reform of laws and regulations, which restrict independent media and freedom of speech, including on the internet. -0-