In Azerbaijan as the last remnants of democracy are being destroyed, some watch in silence

To strengthen its base and existence the authoritarian regime successfully incapacitates all parties that could be an alternative. The targets are clear- alternative media, remaining political parties, organizations, journalists and activists.


The piece was originally written in Azerbaijani and published



This is part I in a series of articles about GONGOs by Aynur Imranova

The plan “destroy and conquer” continues in Azerbaijan. To strengthen its base and existence the authoritarian regime continues to successfully incapacitate all parties that could pose as a challenge. The targets are clear- alternative media, remaining political parties, non-governmental organizations, journalists and activists. The mission – “incapacitate” was launched. Starting from liquidating public strongholds, bankrupting organizations and individuals of their financial support to an on-going arrests and detentions of active citizens on fabricated charges and attacks on political parties with made up court orders- all are proving to be successful.

Similar plan is carried out against independent and opposition media outlets. Made up court orders, obstacles to marketing of newspapers, limiting financial support, kidnapping, beating and arrest of journalists, all seem to worked. Today, the country’s media landscape is in the hands of the ruling circles with few of the journalists refusing to cooperate being targeted.

Surely, the time has now come to deal with the NGO field. Unfortunately, despite the crackdown, arrests, and intimidation, some of the countries abroad priding themselves in being the “cradles of democracy” remain adamant.


field of non-governmental organizations

I would like to note there are approximately 3000 registered NGOs in Azerbaijan. Only 1% of them [25-30 organizations] work in the sphere of democracy and human rights.

The National NGO Forum was set up in 1999 with an aim to “broaden the NGO movement, develop the civil society, coordinate NGO activities in accordance with the current legislation, provide cooperation between the non-governmental organizations and the government, municipal administrations, national and international donors; and help the actors of the NGOs cooperate with with media and private sector”.  In reality none of this ever took place. This Forum was a mere policing platform set up by the government to influence independent organizations.

The notorious “state support council to NGOs”, which was founded in 2007 by the order of the president of Azerbaijan was the finishing touch. With the help of this council the government continues its traditional methods of keeping a tight lid on the NGOs in Azerbaijan.To cover its true colors, the council provides financial support to those NGOs which served their interests.  More recently however, the strategy has changed. The assault is more direct.

Attacks from all ends

Looking back, activities of the non-governmental organizations were always limited, even during the first days of their work.  From the start, it was always difficult to register NGOs especially if they were directed by people not loyal to the government. It was only a matter of time, for when difficult became impossible.  Many of such unregistered organizations did their work despite their unregistered statuses. But the authorities resorting to a myriad of creative means were on an alert and waiting to launch an- all offensive- from as many ends as possible.

One of these “attack” positions was the set up of GONGOs. These Governmental Non-Governmental Organizations were loyal to the government and were established to challenge those NGOs that dealt directly with human rights and democracy work.

In fact, it is not surprising that the main GONGOs receiving on-going support from the government in Azerbaijan are under Ali Hasanov’s direct supervision. Hasanov heads the Social Political Relations Department under the Presidential Administration. There were also plenty of NGOs that later switched sides by becoming GONGOs. The fact that some of these organizations also receive funding from international donors puts these donors under the spotlight – indirectly the end up supporting the authoritarian regime. The most well known case for this was when USAID gave 1.5million worth of US tax payers money to “Azerbaijan Lawyers Federation” run by Ali Hasanov himself.

Surely there are other means of weakening the NGO world in the country. Apart from the GONGOs manipulating the work of these smaller organizations, the government has gone after the international donors supporting NGOs working in the field of human rights and democracy building. A special attention has been given to those international organizations, which support the work of non-registered organizations. The Open Society Institute, National Democratic Institute, and the OSCE to name a few [OSCE office was downgraded in its mission and responsibilities and the other two completely shut down, there are other international organizations currently facing difficulties such as OXFAM and IREX].

As of 2014 local offices of international organizations are under control with all of their financial records of grants being under supervision and investigation. However, no one [from the international community] has said anything about this publicly.

And last but not least, there is an on-going effort on behalf of Azerbaijani government to keep the legislation on NGOs changing without any necessity.


In total there were 8 amendments made in the “Law on NGOs (public union, funds) of Azerbaijan Republic” during 2000-2009 years.  Since 2009 the law was subject to further amendments five additional times. The last amendments were made in February of 2014. Based on these amendments:

– NGOs must inform the Ministry of Interior of any incoming new grants (“Regulations of receiving grants and registration of grant contracts”);

– Banks can no longer process any payments or transfers, without notifying the Ministry of Interior.

The last point is the most troubling – earlier on, although organizations remained unregistered they were able to receive their funding via bank accounts. Following the most recent amendments this is no longer possible.


The most recent amendments to the legislation led to sanctions and opening of criminal cases against NGOs. Grants are in line for registration and approval. Activities are stalled. Venues refuse to host events leaving little a few limited options to host events and gatherings.

In a more severe move, authorities have in addition launched witch hunt. Criminal cases are opened against independent NGOs and international organization that help them according to Article 308.1 – Abuse of power and Article 313 – forgery.

So far, the victims were Oxfam, Fund of supporting European democracy, Embassy of America, USAID, NED, Marshal and OSI foundations.

Ministry of Taxes is too on the deal. Service fees for NGOs were raised by up to 400 %.

Results are obvious: arrests, bans on leaving country, liquidating registration of NGOs [if there were any] and sever penalties.

So why the silence?

Is it for the sake of protection out of fear? There are plenty of NGO representatives who have been called into questioning and interrogated but have not spoken about this to local media. Don’t they see- this is not a solution?!

Perhaps it was the resistance of the NGO community [some 300 organizations] and the support it received from abroad in 2009 when first amendments were suggested that frightened the government. The authorities were caught off guard and had to agree with some of the proposals made by NGOs. And so to avoid any repetition, the government thought to change its strategy – increase the pressure, buy out some of the leaders of the NGO community and act ruthlessly.

Those who are left untouched are GONGOs. The rest are under surveillance or in jail or cannot leave the country, their bank accounts frozen, their work and life stalled. Well known individuals like Intigam Aliyev, Qubad Ibadoglu, Emin Huseynov, Elchin Abdullayev and Annagi Hajibeyli either facing jail time or have disappeared.

In the meantime, embassies and international organizations are just watching. It wont be an understatement to say the NGO community is dying in Azerbaijan, right in front of their eyes. What is the reason for it? Is the West in some kind of dept to Azerbaijani government?

Perhaps it is all part of the a bigger political game – a deal with Aliyev’s government. No longer keeping silent and sending messages of concern are enough. It is all the same to openly supporting the government in its deeds.

There are many questions remain to be answered. But for now, one thing is clear – there is no independent media or an NGO community left in Azerbaijan. Soon it will be lawyers’ and human right defenders’ turn.


 In the time of writing this article, a human rights defender Rasul Jafarov was placed in three months pre-trial detention and the house of a well known human right defender Intigam Aliyev was searched.

The list of amendments:

  • 22 June 2001.  Law of Azerbaijan Republic  Number 157-IIQD  (Collection of Legislation of Azerbaijan 2001, № 9, Article 576)
  • 5 October 2001 Law of Azerbaijan Republic Number182-IIQD (Collection of Legislation of Azerbaijan 2001, № 11, Article 675)
  • 3 December 2002, Law of Azerbaijan Republic Number 398-IIQD (Collection of Legislation of Azerbaijan, 2003 № 1, Article 16)
  • 4 March 2005, Law of Azerbaijan Republic Number 856-IIQD (Collection of Legislation of Azerbaijan 2005, № 4 Article  278)
  • 10 June,   2005.  Law of Azerbaijan Republic. Number-925-IIQD (Collection of Legislation of Azerbaijan Republic 2005 № 8, Article 684)
  • 28 October 2005 Law of Azerbaijan Republic. Number 1041 (“Azerbaijan” newspaper, 1st November  2005)
  • 1st October  2007.  Law of Azerbaijan Republic. Number 424-IIIQD (Collection of Legislation of Azerbaijan Republic, 2007, № 11, Article 1049)
  • 9 October 2007.  Law of Azerbaijan Republic. Number 430-IIIQD (Collection of Legislation of Azerbaijan Republic , 2007, №  11, Article 1053)
  • 13 June 2008.  Law of Azerbaijan Republic. Number 649-IIIQD (“Azerbaijan” newspaper, 27 august 2008 № 190, Collection of Legislation of Azerbaijan Republic, 2008, № 8, Article 699)
  • 30 June 2009.  Law of Azerbaijan Republic. Number 856-IIIQD (“Azerbaijan” newspaper 24 July 2009, № 160, Collection of Legislation of Azerbaijan Republic, 2009, № 07, Article  517)
  • 30 June 2009.  Law of Azerbaijan Republic. Number 842-IIIQD (“Azerbaijan” newspaper 1 September 2009, № 193, Collection of Legislation of Azerbaijan Republic, 2009, № 08, Article 611)
  • 12 February 2010, Law of Azerbaijan Republic. Number 952-IIIQD (“Azerbaijan” newspaper 18 April 2010, № 82, Collection of Legislation of Azerbaijan Republic, 2010 year № 4, Article 265)
  • 15 February, Law of Azerbaijan Republic. Number 561-IVQD (“Azerbaijan” newspaper 12 March 2013, № 55)
  • 17 December 2013,  Law of Azerbaijan Republic. Number 849-IVQD (“Republic” newspaper 04 February 2014, № 023)
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