Azerbaijan fails human rights test for Eurovision

Song contest organisers collude with regime & boost it’s image

London – 24 May 2012


“The Eurovision organisers have failed to secure guarantees from the Azerbaijani government that it will respect the human rights of its citizens, that visitors to Eurovision will not be victimised and that journalists covering the event will be able to report freely, without harassment,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights campaign group, the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

He was commenting on the 2012 Eurovision contest, the final of which takes place in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, this Saturday, 26 May.

“The government of Azerbaijan is using Eurovision as a propaganda tool to project a modern, liberal image to the outside world. The song contest organisers are colluding with this spin and PR.

“The reality is that Azerbaijan has a very poor human rights record on all fronts. It restricts religious and media freedom, suppresses peaceful protests, tortures political prisoners and jails journalists and opposition activists on trumped up charges. The Baku government’s human rights record has been condemned by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Council of Europe.
Read these case studies of Azerbaijani oppression documented by the Campaign for Free Expression in Azerbaijan.

“Eurovision is renowned for its glitz, camp and kitsch. It has a huge gay following, yet Azerbaijan is often not a welcoming or safe country for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

“Homosexuality was decriminalised in 2001 and the country is much more liberal towards sexual minorities than neighbouring Iran. However, social prejudice is rife. The LGBT community suffers periodic police harassment and homophobic violence. LGBT people have no legal protection against discrimination. Consequently, they risk eviction from their homes and dismissal from their jobs. Homophobic prejudice, threats and violence mean that very few Azerbaijanis are openly gay,” said Mr Tatchell.

Read below the Peter Tatchell Foundation summary of human rights abuses in Azerbaijan, authored by James Howarth.

For further background information about LGBT and other human rights violations in Azerbaijan, see these reports:

International Lesbian and Gay Association
Human Rights Watch
Amnesty International

Azerbaijan: Human rights v Human wrongs

A summary – By James Howarth of the Peter Tatchell Foundation

Limits on freedom of speech, assembly and association

• Amnesty International stated that ‘Freedom of speech, association and assembly are routinely restricted in Azerbaijan. Journalists have been beaten, ill-treated and abducted. Peaceful anti-government protests have effectively been criminalised. And new methods of exercising the right to freedom of expression, such as the internet and social media, are also under siege”.

Examples (Amnesty International)
• After Jamal Ali and Natig Kamilov, both 24, insulted Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev’s late mother during their performance in March 2012, the two men were arrested and remain in custody.

• According to the Council of Europe’s fact finding mission to Azerbaijan (2012), many non-governmental organizations have ‘complained in particular about the State control of the broadcast media, limited diversity in the print media, control of the electronic media, criminalisation of defamation and repressive use of the defamation law. They also complained about intimidation of journalists.

• ‘The Council of Europe Commissioner, in his report on Azerbaijan, states that fabricated charges have been used to arrest and silence parliamentary candidates, journalists and members of youth groups.

‘The question of registration of non-governmental organisations remains a concern. The amendments to the law on NGOs, adopted on 9 June 2009, introduced a number of provisions with possible restrictive effects, including the provision barring foreign NGOs from operating unless their activities are based on a formal international agreement. The procedure for concluding such agreements, which was announced by the government in a Decree published only on 16 March 2011, remains unclear.

• ‘According to the requirements defined in the Decree [Presidential Decree 26 December 2011], international organisations must respect “national and moral values” and not be involved in “political or religious propaganda”. These terms are too vague and may be subject to misinterpretation.’


UNHRC – UPR – (page 20) A number of countries raised the issue of freedom of assembly in Azerbaijan during the countries Universal Periodic Review in May 2009

Examples (Amnesty International)
Tural Abbasli
‘29-year-old Tural Abbasli, leader of the youth wing of Musavat one of the country’s main opposition parties, is serving two and a half years because of his involvement in the protests. His lawyer has told us that police beat him after he was arrested. He has also been expelled from university and family members have been fired from their jobs.’ (March 2012)

Jabbar Savalan and Dayanat Babayev were beaten as they were arrested along with 14 other protesters and a journalist when police violently dispersed a demonstration in central Baku in March 2012. Eye-witnesses report Majid Marjanli and Abulfaz Gurbanly were later beaten up while in custody at Yasamal District police station.
Jabbar Savalan, 20, was previously arrested on fabricated drugs charges on 5 February 2011 one day after using Facebook to call for protests against the Azerbaijani government. He was released by presidential pardon on 26 December after an 11 month Amnesty International campaign for his release.

A campaign by ‘Sing for Democracy’ ‘is asking people to sign a petition calling on contestants to support human rights in Azerbaijan’. (April 2012)

Torture and ill-treatment

• According to the Council of Europe, ‘[c]ases of torture and other ill-treatment remain an issue of concern in Azerbaijan. There have been several alarming reports by human rights defenders and domestic and international NGOs about alleged cases of torture or ill-treatment of persons in custody.’

• ‘As mentioned in previous reports, allegations of ill-treatment were confirmed by several judgments of the ECHR between 2007 and 2009. The Court has found Azerbaijan guilty of violations of Articles 2 (right to life) and 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment).’ (April 2012)

Examples (Human Rights Watch)
• ‘Blogger and human rights defender Taleh Khasmammadov…. is in pretrial detention since his arrest in November 2011 on charges of hooliganism and physically assaulting a public official.
• ‘Vidadi Isganderov, a human rights defender, was sentenced to three years in prison on 27 August 2011.’ He ran for office in November 2010 – officially complained about vote rigging, backed-up by evidence, but authorities failed to investigate and instead charged him with interfering with the election.

Media suppression

Reporters without borders,42653.html

• ‘John Dalhuisen, Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, said: “Instead, journalists in the process of exposing human rights abuses are themselves coming under attack by state officials bent on preventing them from reporting the truth.”

• According to Human Rights Watch, ‘Journalists are routinely harassed and intimidated, and critical journalists can be locked up under the country’s strict libel laws. Others have been victims of bogus criminal charges, like drug possession, and imprisoned. The government has banned all foreign radio stations on FM frequencies, including BBC and Radio Free Europe.’

• The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, a local media monitoring organization, reported that more than 50 domestic and foreign journalists were harassed or attacked in 2011. This harassment continued in 2012:

• “There is nothing that can explain or justify why the police have denied these journalists access to their families for two weeks, are holding them in a police cell, and won’t let their lawyer meet with them,” said Jane Buchanan, acting deputy director for Europe and Central Asia. “Locking up journalists or anyone else under these conditions has no place in a country that claims to respect the rule of law.”

Examples (Human Rights Watch)
Name: Khadija Ismailova,
When: March 7 2012
Occupation: a freelancer for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL),
Issue: Target of blackmail campaign, included explicit photos, video and news article. These were posted on the internet when she exposed the blackmail scheme.

Name: Rafik Tagi
When: November 2011
Occupation: correspondent for the weekly newspaper Senet
Issue: Stabbed on the street outside apartment and died. In 2007, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison for inciting religious hatred after writing an article that unfavourably compared Christianity to Islam. Received a Presidential pardon in December 2007.

Examples ( Amnesty International)
Idrak Abbasov, who in March 2012 won Index on Censorship’s 2012 Guardian award for journalism, was beaten unconscious, while his brother suffered head injuries and a broken rib.

• ‘The European Broadcasting union (EBU) [in charge of the Eurovision song contest] stated that it is “deeply committed to media freedom and condemns all arrests, harassment and intimidation of all journalists who must be allowed to do their job, without fear of recrimination.”’

• Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The European Broadcasting Union should not stand by and watch silently as this violent campaign against the media unfolds. If the EBU does not take a public stance on media freedoms in Azerbaijan, the Eurovision Song Contest will suffer a serious stain on its record.”’

• According to the Council of Europe, ‘On 2 April 2011, several journalists covering the anti-government protests were prevented by law enforcement officials from photographing and interviewing participants, and then detained.’

Restrictions on religion

• ‘The last report of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), published in March 2011, notes that restrictive provisions and practices have been tightened and some religious communities have not yet been able to re-register.’

Political bias

Concluding remarks of the Venice Commission December 2011 [summary]
• Lack of transparency over corrupt donations
• Discrimination against ‘trade unions as compared to employer’s organisations in relation to private donations’
• Exclusion of foreign citizens and stateless persons from political life
• Concerns have depended over ‘whether the provisions in the law requiring a party not to perpetrate acts contrary to the constitutional order could be used to refuse recognition to or to dissolve a party which sought fundamental constitutional change by peaceful means…. Such a prohibition would be contrary to principles established by the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.
• The law could also make it difficult to establish a political party
• ‘The law relating to dissolution of political parties does not specify what “body of executive power” is to enforce the law’
• ‘In particular, we hope that the authorities will follow the Venice Commission’s conclusions and recommendations with regard to the necessary changes in the Electoral Code, the law on political parties and the law on NGOs with a view to putting them in line with European standards.

refugees and displaced persons

• According to the Council of Europe, ‘this country, with a population of nine million, is confronted with the problem of up to one million displaced persons, including refugees and internally displaced persons.’ (April, 2012)
• ‘The conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region is not over; it is not even “frozen”: according to official figures, every year people in Azerbaijan are killed and injured on the front line, in 2011 respectively 12 and 34 people, in 2010: 17 and 32.’

Illegal evictions and building demolitions

• The Baku mayor’s office began a reconstruction and resettlement campaign in 2009 in order to build a “garden-park” complex, among other construction projects, as part of a new urbanisation programme. Those residents who refused financial compensations or a resettlement proposal have been forcibly evicted.

• According to Human Rights Watch, a number of journalists were filming the demolition of ‘houses illegally constructed in the Sulutepe settlement on the outskirts of the capital, Baku. The houses, located on land held by the state oil company SOCAR, were being demolished by SOCAR to reclaim its land. Residents were protesting the demolition.’

• According to the Council of Europe, ‘The concerns [of illegal building demolitions] are multifold: firstly, compensation in many cases is far below market value for property in central Baku. There is a single financial compensation of 1 900 USD per square meter, (with the exception of architecturally interesting or historical buildings), irrespective of a property’s use, age or condition.
• ‘Secondly, the whole process lacks transparency and accountability. Long-term planning is not public enough, there is not enough public access to documentation, the procedure and decision-making process are unclear, [and] inhabitants are sometimes forced to leave their homes at a very short notice.
• ‘Finally, forced evictions are against the Azerbaijani law in force, which guarantees the right to private property and allows the state to expropriate property only in limited cases, such as for national defence or communication infrastructure. Expropriations must be based on a court order.’

Examples (Human Rights Watch)
On 12 August 2011, the private building where the apartment of Ms Leyla Yunus, a well-known human rights activist, is situated, and which is also the location of her Institute of Peace and Democracy, was bulldozed. We were told that her staff had not been allowed to evacuate office material (computers, etc). 73. However the EU delegation in Baku, Human Rights Watch and other international NGOs released statements deploring the damage to Ms Yunus’ organisation’s office.