Human Rights Club case communicated to Azerbaijani Government
On 14 October 2015, the European Court of Human Rights communicated a case relating to Human Rights Club’s (HRC) inability to acquire State registration to the Azerbaijani Government. HRC is an organisation set up by three prominent Azerbaijani human rights defenders. The case concerns the repeated returns of applications for State registration, which resulted in significant delays, thus allegedly inhibiting the organisation’s ability to function without the status of a legal entity and interfering with the right to freedom of association. The applicants in the case are being represented by EHRAC Legal Consultant Ramute Remezaite.
Rasul Jafarov, Emin Huseynov and Sabuhi Gafarov, the three applicants, launched HRC as an apolitical, non-religious NGO on 10 December 2010. In accordance with Azerbaijani law, the applicants submitted documents to the Ministry of Justice in order to register as a legal entity, a process necessary for the effective operation of NGOs. The Ministry of Justice returned the registration documents on three occasions, stating that the required supplemental information had not been provided; however, the Law on State Registration requires that, if documents are missing in registration applications, the Ministry of Justice must identify and notify of all lacking materials at the same time. In their application to the European Court, the applicants allege that, by repeatedly returning their registration documents and delaying the registration process, the State significantly encumbered HRC’s ability to function properly. They allege that this constitutes an interference with their right to freedom of association, under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). They further argue that this interference was not “prescribed by law” with reference to the Law on State Registration, constituting a violation of Art. 11§2.
HRC is one of many Azerbaijani NGOs which has found its ability to operate limited by misuse and misapplication of legislation in order to tighten controls on civil society. There are a further four cases in which the European Court has found that the State’s failure to register NGOs between 2007 and 2008 was not “prescribed by law”. On 13 November 2014, the European Court delivered its judgment in the case of Islam-Ittihad Association v Azerbaijan, finding that the dissolution of the Association, a non-profit-making NGO carrying out humanitarian aid alongside a number of projects aimed at promoting respect for human rights and building civil society, violated the right to freedom of association.
Moreover, HRC’s Chairman, Rasul Jafarov, is among several human rights defenders who have been arrested and imprisoned on spurious charges during Azerbaijan’s recent crackdown on civil society. Mr Jafarov was arrested in August 2014 on charges of illegal entrepreneurship, large-scale tax evasion and abuse of power, as well as those stemming from the non-registration of HRC and alleged lack of registration of grants. He was sentenced on 16 April 2015 to six and a half years in prison; the Court’s decision to look into the issue of delays in State registration of NGOs is therefore very timely, and will be an important moment in his European Court case relating to his conviction. Human rights lawyer and founder of the Legal Education Society (LES) Intigam Aliyev was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison just one week later on the same charges. Mr Aliyev’s own European Court case, Aliyev and others v Azerbaijan, bears many similarities to HRC’s, with regards to delays in registering LES and the Azerbaijani Lawyers’ Forum. The latter remains unregistered in spite of a European Court judgment stating that these delays do indeed constitute a violation of the freedom of association.