Azerbaijan: the Eurovision host-nation where free expression costs dearly
Not long to go now until the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest! It will take place this Saturday, 26 May, in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. As the name of the venue – the Crystal Hall – implies, it’s set to be a glitzy event.
Aside from the glamour, Eurovision celebrates free expression. But for ordinary citizens of this year’s host country, free expression actually comes at a hefty price.
In Azerbaijan, using your right to free expression to criticise the authorities can cost you:
29-year-old postgraduate student and opposition activist Tural Abbasli is serving a two-and-a-half year prison sentence. Tural is one of 12 people still behind bars in connection to anti-government protests in Azerbaijan last spring. On 15 May, Tural and other imprisoned opposition activists began a hunger strike – which they have vowed to continue until the end of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Your physical safety
On 18 April 2012, several journalists who tried to film illegal house demolitions on the outskirts of Baku were violently assaulted by state oil company employees and police. Idrak Abbasov was beaten unconscious, suffered two broken ribs and multiple fractures.
On 14 May, police in Baku violently dispersed two separate peaceful protests which called for the release of political prisoners. Videos, such as this one, posted on YouTube show uniformed police officers shoving, punching and kicking peaceful protesters, as well as dragging some away as they shout “Azadliq” (freedom).
Investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova received a threatening letter on 7 March containing intimate pictures of her, after her apartment was broken into and a hidden camera placed in her room. The note warned that she would be ‘shamed’ if she did not abandon her work. Khadija refused, and publicly exposed the blackmail attempt, resulting in the publication of a video showing her having sex. Khadija had been investigating claims of links between the President’s family and a lucrative construction project in Baku. She told us she will not give in to threats, and that this incident only served to demonstrate the Azerbaijani government’s persecution of independent journalists.
On 30 April, 20-year-old Jabbar Savalan was conscripted into the Azerbaijani military. As a university student, he should be exempt from military service according to Azerbaijan’s own military draft law. We believe Jabbar is being targeted because of his peaceful activism – and not for the first time. In March he took part in a peaceful protest calling for the release of prisoners of conscience, and was beaten up by the police and briefly detained. Last year, Jabbar himself had spent 10 months in jail on fabricated charges after he’d posted on Facebook calling for protests against the government.
What can you do?
By spending just a few moments of your time you can use your right to free expression to:
- Call for the release of Tural Abbasli and other prisoners of conscience
- Call for Jabbar Savalan to be released from military service and allowed to resume his studies
- Spread the word! Follow @AmnestyUK on Twitter to share the latest news and actions on human rights abuses in Azerbaijan.
Then settle on the sofa to cheer on the UK's Eurovision representative Engelbert Humperdinck - for Azerbaijani activists like Tural and Jabbar, we can but hope that Love Will Set You Free…
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.