Nezaket Zeynalli

Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev hasn't signed the amendment yet and the topic is widely discussed among civil society.

“The most recent changes in the legislation complicated our work tremendously,” said Shahla Ismayil, chairwoman of the Women's Association for Rational Development in Azerbaijan. "It is almost impossible to register grants at the Ministry. Banks have blocked financial operations for organizations with projects that had been signed before the legislative changes, even though the law cannot (legally) be enforced retroactively.

“But what is worse is that more challenges and restrictions are expected if the president approves the new law."

Without government approval, NGOs can no longer receive grants or even open bank accounts. NGO activities must respect national moral values, not be involved in political and religious propaganda, and never operate in the occupied territories of Nagorno-Karabakh or make contact with the separatist regime in these territories.  But the law does not provide a clear definition of which actions can be considered disrespect of  "national moral values" or "political and religious propaganda."

According to the amendments proposed for the Code of Administrative Offenses (CAO), if the copy of a grant agreement and decisions to the Ministry of Justice are not presented within the period prescribed by law, NGO officials must be fined from $1,910 to $3,180 and legal entities from $6,300 to $8,900.

 For religious organizations and NGOs that do not have grant agreements, but accept assistance from representatives of foreign NGOs, the fines will be $3,180 to $6,360 for NGO officials and $10,200 to  $19,100 for legal entities.

The law proposes that NGOs whose primary purpose is charity can receive donations of $254 in cash.

According to the latest amendments, donors wishing to operate in Azerbaijan and work with local NGOs must sign contracts with the government, obtain licenses for donor activity, justify the project being funded, and receive permission from relevant ministry bodies.

According to existing legislation, NGOs must present 15 reporting forms – four quarterly reports plus an annual report to three bodies -- the Ministry of Taxes, the State Statistics Committee, and the State Social Protection Fund. In addition, NGOs present an annual report to the Ministry of Finance.

The Human Rights Club, an NGO established in December 2010, submitted registration documents in January 2011. Two months later, the Ministry of Justice returned the documents, saying copies of the founders' passports were missing. Once the required documents were submitted, the Ministry of Justice stated that the three founders had not each signed the declaration. The document with all the signatures was resubmitted again. After another two months, the Ministry stated that the founders had not properly listed the rights and duties of the organization's legal representative. There was no legal representative; the founders themselves submitted the document.

In 2013, 20 NGO applicants faced repeated rejections.  In most cases, the Ministry of Justice rejected the applications on the ground of alleged deficiencies in the documents, even though there was nothing in the law about these supposed deficiencies.

In January, representatives of 60 Azerbaijan NGOs asked the government not to sign the new amendments to the legislation.

The government has curtailed the ability of NGOs to obtain funding from foreign sources for several years, while at the same time increasing government funds available to NGOs. The amount allocated in the 2015 budget (about $7.6 million) is almost 50% more than the budget for 2014.

The Chairman of the Council on State Support to Non-Governmental Organizations, MP Azay Guliyev, said the amendments are based on principles of transparency as well as national security.

"Because there are radical religious groups and terrorist organizations that want to support the internal and external forces, we need to adjust the legislation,” he said.