06/24/2009, 00.00
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Parliament debating law to stop NGOs

NGOs and human rights groups say draft bill would be a “death sentence” for NGOs. Vote is expected on 30 June. International mobilisation is being organised but the government does not appear open to negotiations.

Baku (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) and human rights activists are mobilising against a draft amendment that would substantially restrict NGO activities in Azerbaijan. They scored a minor victory when they got parliament to postpone voting from 19 June to the 30 June, but now want the international support to help them get the government to negotiate.

Under the present draft amendments NGOs could get only 50 per cent of their funding from foreign sources. They ban outright foreigners from creating NGOs in the country, providing for harsh sanctions for non-compliance, including a five-year ban on NGO activity for those found in violation of the law.

“These laws would have a crippling effect on civil society by putting limits on their work and funding, and by opening the door to excessive government interference,” said Rachel Denber, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division.

“This law is a death sentence to NGO law in Azerbaijan,” said Penah Huseyin, an MP for the opposition Azerbaijan's People's Party.

US Ambassador Anne Derse, the Council of Europe, and scores of international organisations warned the Azerbaijani government that the draft law would be a step backward in building a stable democracy.

Ms Derse called on Azerbaijani authorities to take into account what civil society leaders have to say as well consult the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe before making any decision.

For its part the government in Baku insists that such amendments are necessary for public security, an argument that Emin Huseynov, chairman of the Institute for Reporters' Safety and Freedom, finds not very credible.

For him existing laws are good enough and “if NGOs are involved in terrorism, they are already violating the law. The government doesn't need new laws to fight against [terrorism]," Huseynov said.

The government however seems bent on going ahead anyway.

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