The space for human rights defenders (HRDs) and NGOs has been steadily shrinking in Azerbaijan. A number of legislative amendments have been adopted in recent years that restrict the work of HRDs and put their activities under strict governmental control. The roundup of the most prominent HRDs and their subsequent trials and imprisonment indicate that Azerbaijan is well on the road towards authoritarianism, seemingly adopting a Russian-style contempt of civil society.
Serious concern has been expressed in relation to the exercise of freedom of expression (including online), freedom of assembly and association. Despite mounting pressure from regional and international human rights bodies, the Government of Azerbaijan has failed to address any of the concerns raised. On the contrary, judicial harassment of journalists, editors and bloggers has been on the rise. There have been reports of increasing use of surveillance by intelligence services on human rights defenders.
Recent amendments to the law on NGOs, the Law on Grants, and the Code of Administrative Offenses, as well as the Law on Registration of Legal Entities and State Registry, passed in December 2013, further increased control by the Ministry of Justice over the activities of both national and foreign NGOs. Organisations seeking registration face administrative difficulties, high costs, and increasingly oppressive reporting obligations, including the registration of all grants agreements. The cumbersome registration requirements have resulted in many human rights NGOs being denied registration. This is particularly worrying given that legislative measures passed in December 2013 make registration of foreign groups mandatory.