Tuesday 5.7.2016 in Latest Developments in Azerbaijan Country Page
In response to the Azeri government’s failure to create a more enabling environment for civil society, on the 4th of May the Steering Committee of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) designated Azerbaijan as an inactive member country in the partnership. This means they are ineligible to vote in OGP elections and able to attend OGP events only as an observer for learning purposes. Azerbaijan will have a maximum of one year to address the OGP's concerns.
Civil society organisations continue to operate in an extremely restrictive environment in Azerbaijan. Legal amendments adopted between February 2014 and October 2015 made it more difficult for CSOs to receive foreign funding, and tightened rules governing the registration of grant agreements and service contracts. Moreover, in December 2015, the Ministry of Justice adopted procedures allowing for the inspection of local and foreign CSOs' activities. The new procedures give the Ministry broad powers and could provide a basis for unrestricted intrusions into the activities of CSOs.
Freedom of peaceful assembly remains severely restricted in Azerbaijan, as peaceful protesters regularly face violence and intimidation from the police, as well as potential criminal charges. The most recent protests took place in January 2016 in several districts across Azerbaijan, following the devaluation of the Manat (the Azeri national currency), price hikes and growing unemployment. In some cases, police forces and military units were deployed to prevent demonstrations. Dozens of protesters, including opposition activists, were detained on the grounds of 'protecting citizens' constitutional rights and ensuring public safety', according to the Ministry of Interior and the Prosecutor-General’s Office.
On 25th May, Khadija Ismayilova, a renowned Azeri journalist, was released from prison, following local and international pressure from both civil society and democratic governments. Azeri civil society welcomed her release in a statement from the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, but pointed out that many other journalists, activists and political prisoners remain behind bars. Although Ms. Ismayilova was released from prison, she still faces two charges of illegal entrepreneurship and tax evasion. Furthermore, her seven-and-a-half year sentence has only been reduced to a suspended three-and-a-half-year term, she is prevented from leaving the country and forbidden to write or speak about her trial. On the 27th of May 2016 - Ms. Ismayilova’s 40th birthday - protesters gathered in 40 different locations around the world to celebrate her release, and to advocate for her complete acquittal.