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Running Scared: How Eurovision can end a human rights abuse in Azerbaijan

Update, Tuesday 3 April

Thank you - hundreds of you have tweeted and facebooked our messages, and it's prompted the European Broadcasting Union to tweet about their position on media freedom in Azerbaijan. But we are concerned that the EBU has downplayed Azerbaijan’s terrible human rights record, and feel that the organisers of Eurovision could do more – specifically to publicly condemn the imprisonment of peaceful protesters. Read our public statement in reply to the EBU’s response

We are planning to continue our campaign for free expression in Azerbaijan as Eurovision gets nearer, and my colleagues will be meeting with the organisers on 2 May.

In the meantime, please send an email directly to President Aliyev asking him to release those imprisoned just for criticising their government, or tweet again @EBU_Eurovision:

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Eurovision is a celebration of free speech and free expression enjoyed by over 100 million viewers. Yet in this year's host nation, Azerbaijan, speaking out against the government can lead to beatings, arrest and imprisonment.

Below is our open letter to Eurovision organisers who we hope won’t just stand by and allow this to happen.

You can also join our campaign and call on Eurovision to stand up for free speech.

To Eurovision organisers,

With the Eurovision Song Contest now just weeks away, you – the European Broadcasting Union – have an opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives.

You will remember Azerbaijan’s entry, 'Running Scared', winning Eurovision on 14 May last year. Just a few weeks before, ‘running scared’ is exactly what my colleagues witnessed scores of people doing on the streets of Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku – the city which will host Eurovision next month - as  peaceful protesters were pursued by heavy handed police.

One year ago, a series of peaceful protests against government repression in Azerbaijan were met with brute force by the authorities. The clampdown that followed resulted in the imprisonment of 17 activists and political figures, 14 of whom are still behind bars today.

The Eurovision Song Contest celebrates free expression, and the European Broadcasting Union claims to champion media freedom. Yet Azerbaijan has one of the worst environments for media and free expression in Europe.

Eurovision organisers have obtained a promise from Azerbaijan’s Prime Minister that press freedom will be guaranteed during the contest – but this is a meaningless promise for Azerbaijan’s ordinary citizens who have lived in an atmosphere of fear for the past twenty years.

The Azerbaijani government has spent millions of dollars on preparing to host Eurovision 2012, and is desperate for the event to be a success. The European Broadcasting Union is therefore in a position to ask the government for more than a temporary ceasefire in their war on free expression.

Please use your position to demand action, not just words, from the Azerbaijani government. The 14 prisoners of conscience must be freed, and freedom of expression must be guaranteed for all. This is not a question of politics, it’s about fundamental human rights.


Not a Eurovision organiser? Then exercise your right to free speech here!

Ahead of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest in Baku next month, We are joining forces with a diverse group of musicians to pressure Azerbaijan to address its appalling human rights record. Find out more

Eurovision has so far dismissed the concerns of human rights groups as ‘political’, and therefore not their concern. We believe that, whenever and wherever the fundamental rights of any human being are interfered with, it should be a concern for everyone. And the European Broadcasting Union is in a position to ask for change.

We’re calling on supporters of free speech to get in touch with the Eurovision organisers and ask them to demand action from the Azerbaijani government.

How to get involved

Post on Facebook calling for the release of the 14 prisoners of conscience in jail since last year:

Send @Eurovision the following tweets:

  • .@Eurovision - call on @presidentaz to release 14 peaceful protesters jailed in #Eurovision host #Azerbaijan #freeaznow
  • .@Eurovision - this isn't politics, it's basic human rights. Back free expression in Azerbaijan - #freeaznow
  • #Eurovision celebrates free expression @Eurovision must demand @presidentaz for free expression for all in #Azerbaijan

Ask your followers to join in:

  • Join the #freeaznow campaign. Eurovision celebrates free expression, yet it's denied to those in #Azerbaijan. Join in:

Email the President of Azerbaijan directly to call for the release of the 14 prisoners of conscience. Visit our action page

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