Sebastian Fortino is an editor, journalist, and writer of fiction, and is passionate about words & disseminating knowledge to the community!
Boycotting Eurovision in Azerbaijan
Human Rights – Eurasia – In 2011 Azerbaijan won the famed Eurovision singing competition, which draws 125 million viewers from more than 40 countries. In May they will host the 2012 contest in Baku, the capital. However, many people are calling for a boycott of the competition as the government has come under fire for a poor human rights record and its dissident clampdown.
The Azerbaijan government was recently called out by Human Rights Watch (HRW) for entering into a controversial “city beautification” process in anticipation of Eurovision, which forced many people from their homes without compensation.
“Hosting Eurovision means the Azerbaijani government can showcase Baku to thousands of visitors and millions of television viewers,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “However, the event is overshadowed by the illegal evictions, expropriations, and demolitions for hundreds of local residents forced out of their homes.”
In addition, HRW indicates that the country is fostering a “hostile environment” for journalists and those critical of the government. The government “severely restricts freedom of assembly,” and open criticism of the government can lead to hefty penalties. Three opposition leaders who led peaceful protests in October 2011, were tried for civil unrest and face up to a three year jail sentence. Reports also indicate that the government has “harassed human rights defenders,” and has brought “politically motivated charges against critics.”
“Azerbaijan is determined to boost its international image by taking leadership positions in regional and international forums, and by hosting mega-events,” said Williamson. “The global stage, if anything, will put the government’s poor human rights record under a glaring spotlight so the authorities should improve the country’s record now.”
Amnesty International has also chimed in about the bans on “opposition rallies and meetings,” as well as the “detention of journalists.”
“Azerbaijan cannot credibly present itself as a rights-respecting democracy so long as it continues to beat up and imprison peaceful protesters. The regime must realise that hosting glitzy events such as Eurovision won’t mask the extent of the country’s human rights violations. They need drastically to change their attitude to peaceful protest,” said John Dalhuisen of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia program.
“Corruption and forced evictions, torture and ill-treatment, unfair trials and harassment – these all go unpunished, while restrictions on freedom of expression tie the hands of civil society activists,” Dalhuisen said. “For much too long the international community has been turning a blind eye to repression in Azerbaijan. The 2012 EUROVISION song contest should lift the glitzy curtains and expose human rights abuses to millions of people.”
Armenia, which neighbors Azerbaijan, has pulled out of Eurovision, while other countries are calling for a boycott from “campaigners in Holland, France, and Ireland.”
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), has been assured by the Azerbaijan government that the “foreign delegates will be secure and free from any censorship during their stay.
“Eurovision can act as an agent of change. It is an event to unite countries and communities and bring understanding,” said an EBU spokesman.
Still, one has to wonder about EBU’s decision to award a country that has little regard for human rights the prestige of hosting a competition that promotes such things.
Take action with Amnesty International here.
Read “The Spring That Never Blossomed” here.
Read more at Aljazeera.