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Parliament drops most contentious changes to NGO law

Protesters outside of Azerbaijan's parliament on 30 June deplore proposed changes to NGO law
Protesters outside of Azerbaijan's parliament on 30 June deplore proposed changes to NGO law

IRFS

Azerbaijan's parliament adopted a new law on non-governmental organisations on 30 June, but eliminated several controversial amendments that were widely opposed by IFEX members and other international human rights groups, the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) and RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service report.

NGOs and international rights groups argued that the amendments would increase the government's control over civil society and media organisations in Azerbaijan.

The rejected proposals would have banned NGOs that received more than 50 percent of their funding from abroad; required all NGOs to register with the state, or else face a fine of up to 50,000 New Manats (US$62,200); and prohibited NGOs from operating nationally if they didn't have branches in one-third of Azerbaijan's administrative units.

IRFS says some restrictive amendments remain, such as foreigners with permanent residency in the country not being allowed to found NGOs, foreign NGOs being prohibited from operating unless their activities are based on a "relevant international contract," and unions having to notify the state of its members and changes to membership.

The amendments were first meant to be discussed on 19 June, but parliament postponed the debate following a broad international and national outcry about the lack of public consultation and the negative effect they could have on the already difficult environment civil society and media organisations operate within.

Led by IRFS, 30 IFEX members signed onto an appeal to Parliament on 15 June to scrap the changes, which "threaten to eradicate independent non-governmental organisations in Azerbaijan, including those that protect freedom of expression."

Amnesty International members across Europe, including the U.K., Germany and Turkey, took to the streets on 29 June while Parliament prepared to discuss the changes as part of Amnesty's solidarity campaign with independent journalists in Azerbaijan.

About 100 people representing civil society groups, including members of IRFS, began a protest on 30 June in front of the parliament building that was forcibly interrupted by plainclothes police, who destroyed the protesters' signs and prevented the demonstrators from nearing parliament.

Three NGO staffers were allowed to deliver a resolution expressing their opposition to the restrictive amendments to parliament. The law was passed later that day.

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