IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Azerbaijani Parliament ignores call from Civil Society on new NGO law
The Azerbaijan Parliament has ignored a call by 62 civil society organizations (see here) to reject amendments to legislation governing non-governmental organizations on the grounds that it threatens the freedom of activity of NGO’s. The changes were passed by the Parliament on 15 February 2013
The amendments which now have to be accepted by the President within 45 days introduce big fines on NGO’s which fail to register grants with the authorities within a certain period. NGO officers would have to pay between 1,500 AZN (1,428 Euros) and 2,500 AZN and the NGOs themselves between 5,000 AZN and 7,000 AZN. The fines are to be greater if NGOs accept donations without grant agreements.
The signatories of the letter point out that at the moment NGOs in Azerbaijan have to submit as many as 19 reports a year to the authorities and argue that the argument that the amendments which add reporting obligations to raise the level of transparency is spurious. They charge that the aim of the change in legislation is to limit NGO activity in Azerbaijan. At the moment around 1,000 NGOs remain unregistered in Azerbaijan and thus cannot open bank accounts. Without registration and bank accounts they will be unable to fulfill the reporting requirements introduced by the new amendments.
The Co-Chair of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum Krzysztof Bobinksi also sent a letter on the subject to the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in which he asked the President not to sign the amendments passed on 15 February 2013 by the Milli Mejlis to the Code of Administrative Offences and the Law on Non Governmental Organizations. These amendments would place a question mark on the President's commitment to the development of the NGO sector in Azerbaijan and the progress towards full democratization of the country.
Unfortunately the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev ignored the call form the Civil Society Forum and the Azerbaijani Civil Society and signed the amendments into law on 11 March.