BAKU—The Human Rights House Foundation on behalf of joint nongovernmental coalition, composed of Civicus, Article 19, Human Rights Watch, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, delivered a statement on Azerbaijan at the 28th session of the United National Human Rights Council condemning the recent crackdown on human rights activists in the country and the general worsening human rights situation.
“Since the presidential election in October 2013, Azerbaijan is leading a crackdown against human rights defenders and, more generally, against any independent voices in the country. As a result, unrelenting crackdown on human rights, key leaders of human rights organisations are behind bars, as well as leading journalists and other peaceful activists, including many activists of the youth movement NIDA,” the statement says.
The NGOs say “new amendments to registration and funding laws systematically impede access to domestic and foreign funding, including by requiring government licensing of all donors, and approval of each funded project, which cuts off practically all funding for NGOs that work to hold the government accountable.”
“As a result, many NGOs have been forced to cease their activities and are subjected to legal prosecution. Bank accounts of more than a dozen NGOs are blocked and their offices are being searched and in some cases sealed. Many more human rights defenders have fled the country. Since May 2014, authorities have frozen the bank accounts of at least 50 independent organizations and, in many cases, of their staff members, while numerous others have been interrogated and otherwise harassed, forcing them to suspend their activities. In addition, several international NGOs operating in Azerbaijan, with longstanding partnerships with local CSOs in the country, have been forced to leave Azerbaijan or suspend operations.”
The crackdown is not limited to NGO leaders but also aims at targeting independent media in the country, the statement said.
The above-mentioned NGOs “call upon the Republic of Azerbaijan to put an end to the systematic punishment of leaders of civil society, and to immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders, journalists and activists held in custody, and drop all charges brought against other human rights defenders, journalists and activists.” They further call upon Azerbaijan to cooperate with independent human rights mechanisms, including by ensuring their ability to conduct country visits, and are in this manner satisfied to see that the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) has scheduled a new visit to the country, following the one it had to cancel in September 2014, and to implement legislative changes as recommended by such bodies, including the Venice Commission and the Commissioner of the Council of Europe.”