The dark shadow hanging over Eurovision
It’s Eurovision time. And while our national press indulges itself in a celebration of Euro-pop, cheese and kitsch, it’s worthwhile turning our minds back 12 months and putting the spotlight once more on the hosts of the 2012 song contest – Azerbaijan.
Held in Baku last year’s contest it briefly offered hope to those campaigning for human rights. Issues such as freedom of expression, freedom of association and torture were given much-needed exposure. And in the direct aftermath, nine Prisoners of Conscience were released.
But once the media circus had departed, the hard line against dissent in Azerbaijan returned. Among those suffering as a result is is 23-year-old Mehman Huseynov.
Mehman, a photojournalist by trade, is facing up to five years in prison. He has been charged with ‘hooliganism’, charges Amnesty International believes have been fabricated to punish him for using the Eurovision Song Contest to highlight human rights concerns to international media. Mehman was the Media Coordinator for the Sing for Democracy campaign. As part of the campaign he was one of a group that met the Swedish Eurovision competitor and eventual winner, Loreen, prompting her to speak out about Azerbaijan’s human rights problems.
But it is not just Mehman who suffered once the Eurovision spotlight went out.
On 26 January, scores of activists were detained and five sentenced to prison following a peaceful protest in Baku. On 27 February, a Baku court sentenced lawyer Bakhtiar Mammadov to eight years in prison on charges that appear to be related to his work as a human rights defender, representing families affected by forced evictions.
On 8 and 15 March, four members of the NIDA youth movement were arrested and face long prison sentences - they had been involved in organising a peaceful protest on 10 March, which was violently dispersed by police, including with the use of rubber bullets and water cannon.
Just last week, three youth activists Turgut Gambar (NIDA), Abulfaz Gurbanli (Popular Front) and Ilkin Rustamzade (Free Youth Movement), were locked up for ten days and their heads forcibly shaved after they attempted to pay homage to victims of a terrorist attack at the State Oil Academy, marking the fourth anniversary on 30 April.
On the same day the activists were arrested, Azerbaijani Prosecutor General Zakir Garalov introduced a draft bill to parliament which, if passed, would criminalise “libel and insult” online, making it punishable by up to 480 hours of community service.
So although the spotlight may now be on Malmo spare a thought for the people of Azerbaijan and the brave human rights activists there who need our help now more than ever.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.