Azerbaijani CSOs’ Letter Expresses Concern About President of Azerbaijan’s Proposed Amendments

Country: azerbaijan
September 16, 2016

On September 4, 2016, Azerbaijani civil society leaders signed a letter to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe (COE), Thorbjørn Jagland, urging him to call upon the COE’s Venice Commission to comment on Azerbaijan’s upcoming Referendum Act. The letter was signed by Intiqam Aliyev, Emin Huseynov, Rasul Jafarov, Anar Mammadli, and Dr. Leyla Yunus, prominent activists and former political prisoners of the regime. The amendments have been widely criticized by opposition politicians for granting nearly unlimited power to Aliyev and his family. The new amendments increase the length of the presidential term and give the president the conditional power to dissolve parliament. The president will also be granted the authority to suspend freedom of assembly rights for “public order” or “morality” purposes and revoke Azerbaijani citizenship. The letter to Jagland references the Venice Commission’s Code of Good Practice on Referendums, which states that a Parliamentary body must be given an opportunity to provide a non-binding opinion on the text being considered for change. In addition to the formal procedures for changing the text, the letter referenced the “present regime’s intolerance of criticism” as incompatible with the referendum’s “legitimacy.” Recent media restrictions and increased arrests by the government of peaceful activists, has cultivated an environment of fear in Azerbaijan. Without free and open public debate, the people of Azerbaijan cannot practice a “balanced assessment of the proposed amendments,” according to the letter.

On September 9, the Venice Commission stated it would issue a preliminary opinion the week before the referendum. The opinion will then be submitted “to the plenary session of the Venice Commission which will take place on October 14-15, 2016 in Venice, for endorsement.