PACE urges Azerbaijan to reform restrictive NGO laws
On 17th June 2017, the Azerbaijani National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum held a conference on the ongoing negotiations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the European Union as well as to enhance the participation of civil society in the negotiations.
In June 2017, the co-rapporteurs for monitoring Azerbaijan from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) visited Baku to discuss several important issues, including the restrictive regulations on funding of NGOs and other civil society actors. In a statement, PACE reiterated the need to reform:
"the restrictive norms governing the operation and funding of NGOs and their implementation so as to allow for the functioning of a vibrant civil society and ensure respect for freedom of association".
Another important development for civil society and human rights is the decision of the Steering Committee of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) to maintain Azerbaijan's status in the OGP as inactive, which was extended for one more year due to "unresolved constraints on the operating environment for NGOs". During this extended period, the Azeri government is expected to demonstrate progress in improving the conditions for civic space.
As reported previously on the Monitor, on 16th June 2017 the European Parliament (EP) issued a resolution on the case of the Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli. The resolution calls on the Georgian authorities to ensure a prompt, thorough, transparent and effective investigation into Mukhtarli’s forced disappearance from Georgia and illegal transfer against his will into Azerbaijan. Moreover, the EP urged the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Afgan Mukhtarli, and others “…incarcerated as a result of the exercise of their fundamental rights, including freedom of expression”.
In that same motion, another case of free speech violations was addressed. The EP called on the government to stop its persecution of activists and to investigate the death of Azerbaijani blogger and activist Mehman Galandarov, who died while in the custody of the Azerbaijani authorities on 28th April 2017. The United States, the OSCE and other international organisations have also called for an investigation. Galandarov had been held in pre-trial detention since 7th February 2017 after being charged with drug trafficking. However, the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety reported on 1st May 2017 that “local police apprehended [Galandarov] whilst he was attempting to spray a political slogan on the statue of former President Haydar Aliyev”.
A day after the resolution was passed, Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Johannes Hahn visited Baku, while Human Rights Watch and the International Partnership for Human Rights urged Hahn to use the visit to address human rights issues with the Azerbaijani authorities, especially cases of the regime cracking down on and imprisoning political activists, journalists and other government critics.