By Afgan Mukhtarli
New rules requiring Azerbaijani nationals living abroad to report to their nearest consulate look like an attempt to keep tabs on political émigrés.
Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry amended the law on the registration of Azerbaijani citizens living abroad. Under the new rules introduced on April 30, all Azerbaijani citizens must register at a consulate within a month of arriving in a foreign country and give documentary evidence of the work they are engaged in. The foreign ministry’s department will forward this information to the state migration service and to the labour and welfare ministry.
Natig Adilov, a journalist now living as a political émigré in France, told IWPR the Azerbaijani government already had a range of ways of monitoring citizens living abroad.
“People who left Azerbaijan because of political persecution or unemployment are under constant surveillance by the government,” he said. “This constant scrutiny of citizens in exile, political refugees in particular, used to be carried out by diaspora organisations. Over the last year, journalists and NGO workers have left Azerbaijan, mainly for political reasons, to continue their activities in different countries, and the government does not like this, to put it mildly. The new rules it has adopted are a further step towards exerting total surveillance of Azerbaijani citizens living abroad.”
Azer Ismayil, an advisor to the Musavat party chairman, told IWPR that it would become hard for people to earn a living even outside Azerbaijan.
“Many politicians, journalists and NGO workers are now abroad, having fled persecution,” he said. “They have to work in order to live. But in order to do that, they must come voluntarily to the [consular] offices of the state that persecutes them.”
Ismayil said that failure to register meant that expatriates would be unable to renew their passports when the time came.
“When it comes to persecution, there won’t be any difference between living abroad or within the country,” he added.
Dashgin Agalarli, a member of the opposition Musavat party who now lives in Georgia, agreed.
“The Azerbaijani government has set itself the goal of silencing political opponents by any means,” he told IWPR. “Those who left the country due to political persecution are now being hounded abroad. The Azerbaijani government uses mind-boggling methods to bring these active emigres back so as to place them under arrest.”
Last year, Agalarli himself was detained for six months in Georgia at the request of the authorities in Azerbaijan.
“On the basis of groundless claims made by the Azerbaijani government, I was arrested on March 1, 2014 and held for six months,” he said. “During a trial monitored by international human rights organisations and the United Nations, the accusations put forward against me were deemed to be unfounded, and I was released.”
Agalarli says the intrusive surveillance will affect everyone who goes abroad, not just dissidents.
“These new rules won’t just affect political refugees. There are now hundreds of businessmen who left the country because of the economic climate that’s been created in Azerbaijan. These people are now working successfully in various countries,” he said. “The new rules will allow authorities to keep watch on them.”
Defending the government’s position, migration expert Azer Allahveranov told the Azerbaijani service of the BBC that this move offered citizens more security.
“Often, people who go abroad to work or live don’t make themselves known to the consulate. But if somebody does register, it is many ways an insurance measure. Anyone in a foreign country can find themselves at the wrong end of the law. To defend that person rights effectively, it’s no bad thing to have information about him or her,” Allahveranov said.
He added that the registration system was not a sudden move, just a natural response to increasing emigration and a useful way of getting solid statistics on citizens living abroad.
Commenting on the new rules, lawyer Muzaffar Bakhish noted that they came on top of a 2014 amendment to Azerbaijani’s citizenship law. Bakhish told RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service that this law stated that citizens working for a foreign governments – national or local – or volunteering in their armed services, would be automatically deprived of citizenship.
“Depriving an Azerbaijanii of citizenship is in contravention of Article 53 of the constitution… [which] states that citizenship cannot be denied in any way,” he said. “The amendments to the registration rules for Azerbaijani nationals abroad is a continuation of that.”
Afgan Mukhtarli is an Azerbaijani journalist living abroad.