“We are the last of the Mohicans,” says Leila Alieva (left).* “First the government weakened the opposition, then targeted independent media, and now us – the NGOs.”
Her research institute, the Centre for National and International Studies in Azerbaijan. is one of dozens of pro-democracy non-governmental organisations under investigation by the Azeri authorities, the BBC’s Rayhan Demytrie reports:
And the crackdown is taking place as oil-rich Azerbaijan chairs Europe’s leading pro-democracy institution, the Council of Europe. In most cases the authorities have frozen bank accounts or launched tax inspections, forcing NGOs that received foreign grants to suspend projects.
Other organisations include Transparency International, Irex, National Endowment for Democracy and Oxfam.
These moves come as a prominent international coalition, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), is to decide at a board meeting in Naypyidaw, Burma on October 14 and 15, 2014, what action to take on Azerbaijan’s membership in response to its intensifying crackdown. EITI is an international coalition to encourage better governance of resource-rich countries by fostering open public debate about how oil, gas, and mining revenues are used. EITI rules for candidates and participating countries require respect for fundamental freedoms…. For the past year the government of oil-rich Azerbaijan has been impeding the activities of independent groups, flouting its commitments as an EITI member.
“EITI’s leadership should suspend Azerbaijan and make clear what needs to change before it will consider lifting the suspension,” said Lisa Misol, senior business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Azerbaijani government’s latest move to crush independent groups confirms that it has no regard for its human rights obligations or its international transparency commitments.”
Two prominent human rights activists, Leyla Yunus (right) and Rasul Jafarov, were arrested in late July after they compiled a list of Azerbaijan’s political prisoners.
Human Rights Watch described the charges as “completely bogus”.
“These are the towering figures of civil society, who we felt were more or less untouchable. But apparently no-one is untouchable in Azerbaijan. At this stage all critical civil society is pretty much exterminated,” says Georgi Gogia, the group’s senior researcher in the Caucasus.
With Azerbaijan chairing the Council of Europe, questions have been raised about its ability to respect the 47-nation organisation’s founding principles, the BBC’s Demytrie adds.
“It’s shocking that the chairman is basically a dictatorship using its chairmanship period this summer to arrest literally every three days all the critical minds that defend the very value of the institution,” says Gerald Knauss, who heads the Berlin-based European Stability Initiative (ESI).