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Justice Ministry conducts inspection of IRFS office, questions staff

(IRFS/IFEX) - The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) assesses the sudden and unwarranted initiation of an inspection of the organisation by the Justice Ministry as the beginning of a new campaign of pressure.

On 29 October, employees from the Justice Ministry's Registration and Notary Head Office called the IRFS office at 12:30 p.m. and said they were coming at 3:00 p.m. to conduct an inspection. In response, IRFS employees informed a Justice Ministry staff member that the organisation's chairman, Emin Huseynov, was in Romania participating in an NGO forum and would only be able to answer their questions upon his return on 1 November. Despite this, Justice Ministry employees Sabina Sulmanova Gedir gizi and Gunel Hemidli Bekhiyar gizi arrived at the IRFS office to conduct an inspection. At the beginning of the inspection they presented a letter addressed to Huseynov and signed by Justice Ministry Registration and Notary Head Office Deputy Chief Mehman Soltanov, stating that the purpose of the inspection was "to determine if IRFS's activities comply with legislation and the organisation's charter."

During the inspection, the Justice Ministry employees were in the IRFS office for an hour and asked the organisation's employees many questions. Their interest was focused on information about the organisation's founders, members, grants, and its legal and real address.

In an explanation to the Media Forum website, Soltanov said that the ministry's employees were sent to IRFS to inspect the NGO's actions. "While at the organisation's office, the employees from the Justice Ministry were informed that the chairman was not present and that is why no documents were shown," the ministry representative alleged. Soltanov said that it is impossible to conduct inspections without the presentation of documents.

IRFS believes that the initiation of these types of unwarranted inspections is an obvious display of the Azeri government's intolerance towards independent NGOs.

IRFS declares that these types of activities by the Justice Ministry are a violation of Freedom of Association and Assembly as envisaged in Article 58 of Azerbaijan's Constitution and Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Only a short time ago, the well-known Election Monitoring Center (EMC) was closed and NGO legislation was amended to make it more restrictive. The re-registration of the EMC has been deliberately delayed by the Justice Ministry.

IRFS appeals to international organisations to call on Azerbaijan's government to put an end to these types of repressive actions. In addition, IRFS appeals to the Azeri government to display tolerance toward independent NGOs.

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