Conflict & Justice

Despite modern facade, Azerbaijan guilty of rights abuses


Plainclothes police officers detain opposition activists who tried to hold a rally near public television station which is the Azerbaijani partner for Eurovision broadcasts in Baku, on May 23, 2012.



Bloggers, journalists and dissidents continue to be jailed and abused in Azerbaijan, behind the bright lights of the Eurovision contest, in which contestants from 40 countries duke it out in a singing competition.

Amnesty International says it has "noticed a fresh wave of human rights violations" in the oil-rich country, which borders Armenia, Georgia, Iran and the Caspian Sea.

Protesters were beaten and  38 were detained after a demonstration Monday, and 16 activists and journalists are currently imprisoned. President Aliyev has been accused of accused of corruption, and beating and illegally arresting a number of what Amnesty calls "prisoners of conscience," as well as having a firm grip on all the country's media. 

"The novel 1984 is the situation we have in Azerbaijan today. [President Ilham] Aliyev is like Big Brother – he sees everything, knows everything," said Elnur Majidli, a 22-year-old who had recently been released from prison, to the Guardian

More from GlobalPost: Iran recalls envoy to Azerbaijan over alleged Eurovision 'gay parade'

Majidli was found guilty of "hooliganism," the same crime two of the country's best-known bloggers were accused of after a video mocking the government's extravagant spending on donkeys went viral.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Azerbaijan at 162 out of 179 on the Press Freedom Index, noting that Western radio, such as the BBC and Radio Free Europe, are not accessible and social media is monitored. In 2011, the editor of an opposition newspaper was murdered, and the crime has gone unsolved.  

Calls for the European Broadcasting Union, which is behind Eurovision, to address these issues have gone unanswered, but some activists believe that although it was a bad decision to allow Azerbaijan to host the song contest, it's a chance to bring human rights abuses to light. 

"This is not just an opportunity for the Azerbaijani people to shine, Eurovision is also an important opportunity for us all to focus on the host country's government and to demand reform," wrote Maran Turner of the NGO Freedom Now in a CNN editorial. The choice of host country was a controversial one, she said, "but also an excellent opportunity for international advocacy to do some good."

Amnesty, however, believes that by not speaking out on the issue of press freedom and illegal arrests, EBU is contributing to the problem in Azerbaijan, if not condoning it. 

More from GlobalPost: Eurovision: Greatest hits from the world's greatest singing contest

“Despite publicly committing to support free expression in Azerbaijan, the EBU has maintained a deathly silence on recent repeated violations of that right,” said Max Tucker, Amnesty International’s Azerbaijan campaigner. “The lack of action by the EBU and the international community is giving the authorities carte blanche to continue violently crushing dissent without consequence.”


In Conflict & JusticeConflictRights.

Tagged: .