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Authorities shut down pro-democracy university's office

The raid on the office of Free Thought University (Azad Fikir Universiteti, or AFU), followed by its closure, constitutes an unprecedented assault on Azerbaijan's civil society. Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) strongly condemns the move, and calls for authorities to reopen AFU and release confiscated property immediately.

On the morning of 10 April 2013, employees of the prosecutor general's office arrived at AFU'S office without prior notice, sealed the door and shut the office down. The prosecutor general's office later announced that the organization has breached several of its legal and administrative obligations, including the provisions of the Law on NGOs adopted in 2013.

"The move is yet another heavy blow to freedom of expression in Azerbaijan", comments IRFS CEO and chair, Emin Huseynov. "It is a political decision and clearly illustrates that the authorities do not care about civil society. It sends the wrong signal and will not go unnoticed by the international community", he said.

AFU is an alternative education project implemented by the OL! Movement, which is very popular amongst progressive youth. As stated on its website, AFU's mission is to provide an environment where youth can get together freely, develop their knowledge, acquire democratic values and share their experience, in short: enrich their student life.

Working on human rights has become increasingly difficult in Azerbaijan. Since the beginning of the year, Azerbaijani officials and pro-government media have
engaged in a smear campaign against independent civil society organizations, particularly those receiving foreign funding, accusing them of threatening national security.

On 31 March, EL, a newly founded movement, was expelled from its office. The new office rented by the movement was also seized by the police on 5 April.

Worryingly, this crackdown is expected to continue in the coming weeks.

Now, other CSOs are at risk of being targeted.

IRFS reminds that raids on the CSOs offices are a blatant violation of the Azerbaijani people's right to freedom of association guaranteed by article 58 of the Azerbaijani Constitution and article 11 of the European Convention.

IRFS urges the authorities to put an end to any act of harassment - including at the judicial level - against civil society in Azerbaijan, and to conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially:

- Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,

- article 5, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: (a) To meet or assemble peacefully; (b) To form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups; (c) To communicate with non-governmental
or intergovernmental organizations.”

- article 6 (b) and (c), which states that “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others […] as provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms and [...] to study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters”.

- and article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”.

IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani authorities stop attacks on the freedom of association and support the development of civil society. IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to overturn the decision on the AFU and address the shortcomings of the legislation on NGOs, which currently does not meet international standards for the protection of human rights.

The organization also calls on international organizations to urge the Azerbaijani government to put an end to violations of the freedom of association and freedom of association.

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