Nil Points for Azerbaijani Eurovision preparation

Next year’s Eurovision song contest could be interesting (and personally, I never thought I’d hear myself say those words). It’ll be held for the first time in Azerbaijan, courtesy of Ell and Nikki’s song Running Scared, and will no doubt be glitzy, glamorous and gorgeous – particularly if you watch with the sound turned down.

But Azerbaijan has a bit of a dark secret – they’re not keen on free speech. And while this could mean trouble for Graham Norton if he gets too pithy, it means a whole lot more trouble for people within the country.

Amnesty’s new report highlights a range of cases in which people including bloggers (gulp) and social media users (yep –that’s you) have been beaten and imprisoned if they’ve questioned the government. People using Facebook have been labelled ‘insane’. Personally I tend to wonder about some of my friends who like to share intimate details of what they had for breakfast and daily photos of their baby – but that’s not the point.

To be serious, Azerbaijanis took to the streets in spring this year, as in other parts of the world, to demand democratic reform. Unlike in other parts of the world, the protests were banned, journalists and human rights defenders threatened, youth activists jailed. Around 17 are still in prison.

I’m not entirely sure this is an image that sits well with the spirit of Eurovision. And while linking what Jabbar Savalan and his compatriots are going through to the annual kitsch fest may seem as tasteful as the contest itself, maybe there’s hope.

The eyes of Europe will be on Azerbaijan come May next year.  When the television cameras come calling, whether for a sporting event or whatever, governments can react in unexpected ways. Let’s hope that Azerbaijan sings the right tune. Because right now, they’re just Running Scared.

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