Azerbaijani authorities raid offices of Economic Research Center
News Source: Economic Research Center, Azerbaijan
Azerbaijani officials seized computers and documents during a May 13 raid on the offices of the Economic Research Center (ERC), a PASOS member in Baku, signalling an escalation in the government’s campaign against NGOs that support democratic principles, according to the head of the center.
“It is definitely clear that the investigations started against local and foreign non-governmental organizations in April last year are still ongoing and have entered a new stage, this time even more brutal,” said ERC head Gubad Ibadoghlu.
In addition to taking items owned by ERC, investigators with the Serious Crimes Department of the state prosecutor’s office took materials from the NGO Coalition for Improving Transparency Initiative in Extractive Industries, and the National Budget Group (NBG), two NGOs that share office space with ERC.
“I personally believe that it was directly related to the activities I have been involved in with the International Board of Directors in regard to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI),” Ibadoghlu said. “After my active participation in the last meeting of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Azerbaijan’s status was downgraded to candidate membership from full membership.”
The EITI is a global standard to promote open and accountable management of natural resources. It seeks to strengthen government and company systems, inform public debate, and enhance trust. In each implementing country, it is normally supported by a coalition of governments, companies and civil society working together.
“It is obvious that a change like this to the status of Azerbaijan in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative has angered the top officials,” Ibadoghlu said. “The investigators have responded as ‘it has nothing to do with us,’ which is another way of saying in Azerbaijan that orders are coming from the very top officials.”
Ibadoghlu said the timing of the raid was also connected with the center’s plan to release on May 14 a monitoring report on Azerbaijan’s Open Government Partnership Action Plan activities for 2014.
News of the raid drew a sharp reaction from PASOS Executive Director Jeff Lovitt, who said the association is ready to support the ERC however possible.
“The government’s ongoing campaign of harassment and prosecution of groups like the ERC, and individuals like Anar Mammadli, imprisoned because of his efforts to defend the right to free elections in Azerbaijan, must stop,” he said.
In January 2014, PASOS and its members urged Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to reject a package of laws intended to stifle and intimidate NGOs in Azerbaijan, a plea that was ignored.