Baku / 23.05.20 / Turan: Obstacles to the activities of Azerbaijani NGOs were discussed on May 22 at a virtual round table on the theme "Problems of Azerbaijani civil society in a pandemic and ways to solve them."
The initiator of the meeting in the form of a videoconference, which was attended by representatives of a wide range of NGOs, both independent and pro-government, was the Institute of Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS).
As noted, opening the meeting, the Director of the IRFS, Emin Huseynov, in the pandemic, NGOs face problems in carrying out their activities in different countries of the world.
However, in Azerbaijan, administrative obstacles to the work of independent civil society institutions have existed for six years and their situation is getting worse.
As many participants in the meeting noted, over the past 6 years, NGOs cannot actually carry out legal activities.
According to the political scientist, Hikmet Hajizadeh, the process of a total attack on civil society institutions began in Azerbaijan after the events of the Maidan in Ukraine.
In his opinion, it was not without the submission of the relevant structures of the Russian Federation that the Azerbaijani authorities formed a firm conviction that these events in Ukraine were organized by the West through the NGOs of this country. The Azerbaijani authorities have strengthened the erroneous opinion that the country's NGOs are used by Western institutions to finance the opposition in order to prepare a “color revolution”. After that, attacks began on independent civil society institutions, which today are paralyzed.
He and other participants also pointed to blocking the activities of NGOs that cannot work legally due to the delay in the registration of non-profit organizations by the Justice Ministry, as well as grant agreements.
Despite the fact that the ECHR adopted a number of decisions on Azerbaijan, recognizing a violation of freedom of association, the authorities do not comply with them.
The criminal case initiated by the prosecutor general’s office against local and foreign NGOs in 2014 has not yet been closed, frozen bank accounts of organizations and activists have not been unblocked, and confiscated property has not been returned.
On the other hand, the recent decision of the Plenum of the Supreme Court on the full rehabilitation of the human rights defender Rasul Jafarov, convicted in this case, in fact confirmed the unreasonable prosecution of NGOs, for many organizations and activists have been harassed on similar charges.
These problems with the activities of NGOs deprive them of the opportunity to receive assistance from donors in the pandemic.
In this regard, the conference noted the need to develop, together with local and international donors, a roadmap of measures to support NGOs in the pandemic.
This would increase the capacity of public support for resolving the problems of the population caused by the pandemic.
In general, as was noted at the meeting, due to the curtailment of the activities of NGOs, Azerbaijan annually does not receive about $ 40 million in donor assistance, most of which now goes to other countries in the region.
Many participants in the meeting condemned the intensification of repressions during the pandemic against critics of the government, pointing in particular to the arrests of opposition politician Tofig Yagublu, journalist and human rights activist Elchin Mammadov, and the detention of activist Agyl Humbatov in a psychiatric hospital.
It was noted that NGOs can provide great support in solving the problems of society during a pandemic, however, for this, the government should remove restrictions on their activities.
Representatives of pro-government NGOs also actually agreed that the restrictions on civil society activities were not correct. However, according to them, partly the restrictions were caused by the government’s concern for “state security”, “politicization of some NGOs”, etc. According to the heads of pro-government NGOs, it is impossible to immediately solve all problems and the authorities are gradually lifting the restrictions.
The activists who received asylum abroad noted that they were ready to return to the country and continue working, however, the conditions must be appropriate for this - the criminal prosecution should be stopped, and restrictions on the free activity of NGOs should be removed. But, while this has not been done, they cannot return.
In conclusion, the meeting participants agreed on the need to continue consultations among themselves in order to develop a unified position and concrete proposals on resolving civil society problems and submitting them to the government. –06B-