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Repressive draft bill threatens Azeri civil society

The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) is deeply concerned by reports that some members of Azerbaijan's parliament, the Milli Mejlis, have prepared draft legislation that would serve as yet another blow to local civil society.

Prepared and presented to the Parliament by MP Gudrat Hasanguliyev, who is loyal to the authorities, the draft law "On the occupied territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan" has certain provisions that could create criminal liability for representatives of local and international NGOs.

Those provisions would criminalize the cooperation of Azerbaijani citizens with any Armenian organization or entity, or their representatives.

The draft law also states: "Agencies of all foreign countries (except for diplomatic missions), their representatives, foreign nationals cooperating with the aggressor state (Armenia), or directly and indirectly involved in implementation of these activities, as well as decision-making regarding the implementation will be banned from operating in Azerbaijan. The criminal sanctions determined in both sections will be applied to all legal entities and civilians."

In their interviews with different media outlets during April and May of this year, members of the Azerbaijani Parliament – Ganira Pashayeva, Zahid Oruj, Mubariz Gurbanli and Gudrat Hasanguliyev – mentioned that there were plans to adopt this bill. But only at the end of last week it became clear that the bill contains certain provisions that could seriously threaten the operations of local and international NGOs. Although the press service of the Milli Mejlis has denied the existence of such legislation, Member of Parliament Gudrat Hasanguliyev confirmed that he had submitted the draft for consideration.

IRFS stresses that with its anti-civil society provisions, the above-mentioned bill would be the most damaging in a series of regressive legislation introduced this year, in the run-up to Azerbaijan's upcoming presidential election in October. Other recent worrisome action by the Milli Mejlis includes restricting the operations of NGOs, increasing the penalties for organizing or participating in unsanctioned protests, extending the maximum period of administrative detention from 15 days to two months, and criminalizing defamation online.

IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani parliament to not include those provisions in the law "On the occupied territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan", which could provide for administrative or criminal liability for local and international civil society organizations.

IRFS further calls on Azerbaijani and international civil society organizations to raise their voices and condemn such potentially dangerous legislative initiatives by certain members of the Azerbaijani Parliament and call on them to refrain from initiating such bills.

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