New laws impose stiffer restrictions on CSOs & media, journalist killed
On 1st January2022, the new provisions of the Fiscal Code entered into force in Azerbaijan. Some of the provisions will regulate the activity of non-governmental organisations and, according to CSO Metter, they will put even more pressure on NGOs, especially around financial reporting. Positively however, the law also introduces tax exemptions to social and public good foundations for a period of eight years.
In positive developments, on 19th November 2021, four members of NIDA, an Azerbaijani pro-democracy movement, were acquitted by the Supreme Court of Justice. They were convicted in 2014 on drugs and weapons charges after being arrested in the spring of 2013 for organising protests against non-combat deaths in the military, and sentenced to between seven and eight years’ imprisonment. Although the four, Rashadat Akhundov, Rashad Hasanov, Zaur Gurbanli and Uzeyir Mammadli were freed following presidential pardons in 2015 and 2016, the Court’s acquittal was an acknowledgement of their innocence.
On 24th December 2021, several journalists and video bloggers held a rally in front of parliament, protesting against new media regulations. The protesters, carrying posters saying "Free press!", called on the deputies not to adopt the bill in its current form, arguing that the regulations will impose censorship and restrictions on activities such as investigations by journalists, contrary to the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The new bill, which was drafted in eight months, was not taken through public participation. During the protest, police took away the posters from the journalists but did not disperse the protesters. There were no detainees.
On 24th February 2022, Russia launched a war against Ukraine, striking several cities in the country simultaneously. Following this development, several countries around the world organised protests against Russia and to show solidarity with Ukraine. On 28th February 2022, several demonstrations were organised in Baku in this regard. Many people took to the streets and marched to the Ukrainian Embassy in Baku to express their solidarity with the Ukrainian people, with the police trying to limit the number of participants. The march was organised by several representatives of the opposition, NGOs and journalists who organised themselves on social networks. On the same day, another protest rally was held near the Russian Embassy in Baku. The police restricted access to the embassy, allowing in only embassy staff. Five people were detained.
Another rally, this time a counter-protest, announced on 1st March 2022, was set for 3rd March 2022, by protesters who wanted to protest against Ukraine, supporting Russia's propaganda and misinformation messages against Kyiv. The Turan news agency quoted one of the protesters saying that Russia was a state that had helped Azerbaijan and that the authorities had allowed solidarity with Ukraine because it suited them.
Separately, on 28th February 2022, Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans held a protest against police officers whom they accused of abuse of office for failing to pay for services offered to them in a caférun by Azeri war veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh. Because of the publicity that was attracted by this event, the police officers started to put pressure on the café’s owners. The veterans were detained, and allegedly beaten for violating business management procedures.
In separate developments, on 18th December 2021, journalist Sakhavet Mamed was summoned to the General Prosecutor's Office for interrogation about his articles on the army. After that, he was fined 500 manats (USD 294) for "posting information on an information and telecommunication network, the dissemination of which is prohibited by the Law of the Republic of Azerbaijan".
Lawyer and media expert Khalid Agaliyev noted that the practice of summoning journalists to the General Prosecutor's Office or to other law enforcement agencies to question them about their written content is widely practised in Azerbaijan.