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Azerbaijan Introduces Strict Rules For Foreign NGOs

Azerbaijan has announced stringent new rules for the registration of foreign nongovernmental organizations in the country, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

The Azerbaijani cabinet promulgated the new rules on March 16.

Foreign NGOs must now submit a written application to the Justice Ministry "to start negotiations on preparing an agreement on the state registration of [their] local branches." The application must specify the purpose of the NGO's activity in Azerbaijan, how urgent the activity is, and how it benefits society.

The conditions NGOs must now agree to in order to gain registration are: abide by the constitution, laws, and other normative acts of the Azerbaijan Republic; respect the Azerbaijani people's national and moral values; not engage in any activities on territories occupied as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; and not engage in political or religious activity.

The new requirements state that if any of these conditions are unacceptable to an NGO, talks on its registration will be terminated.

Lawyers speaking to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service called for the repeal of the new rules. They said the regulations contradict Azerbaijan's international commitments, conventions it is a signatory to, and its own legislation.

Lawyer Alasgar Mammadli said the new rules have no legal basis as they restrict basic human rights.

Anar Mammadli, chairman of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center, told RFE/RL the Azerbaijani authorities aim to adapt all programs in the country to their own interests. He predicted it may become impossible for foreign NGOs to open offices in Baku.

Mammadli said the rules also aim to limit the freedom of activity of foreign NGOs and freedom of association.

Read more in Azeri