Ell/Nikki’s hit song Running Scared gave Azerbaijan victory in the Eurovision song contest in 2011 [Reuters]
There are calls for a boycott of this year’s Eurovision song contest in Azerbaijan due to the country’s poor human rights record and dissident clampdown.
The Eurovision song contest with be held in the capital, Baku, in May after Azerbaijan won the competition in 2011.
The authorities in Azerbaijan are making the occasion of hosting the contest as a centrepiece of its efforts to make Baku an international cultural capital.
A TV audience of about 125 million viewers from 42 countries is expected.
Already the competition has caused controversy as last month Human Rights Watch, the New York-based organisation, criticised the forcible evictions of people from their homes, sometimes without warning or in the middle of the night, to make way for “city beautification” before Eurovision.
Many of the landlords and tenants were paid little or no compensation, as a result.
Criticising the government of Ilham Aliyev can result in hefty penalties.
In October 2011, three opposition leaders who helped organise the peaceful protests were found guilty of causing civil unrest, a crime that carries a prison sentence of up to three years in Azerbaijan.
Concerns about curbs
The latest report of Amnesty International, the London-based rights monitor, on Azerbaijan reveals concerns about a ban on opposition rallies and meetings, and the detention of journalists.
John Dalhuisen, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia programme, told the Guardian newspaper: “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.”
Neighbouring Armenia has already withdrawn from Eurovision because of its worsening relations with Baku, Iceland’s broadcasters are considering pulling out, and there have been boycott calls from campaigners in Holland, France and Ireland.
Azerbaijan has assured the organisers, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), a guarantee that foreign delegates will be secure and free from any censorship during their stay.
“We believe strongly that Eurovision is not political,” an EBU spokesman told the Guardian on Saturday.
“But Eurovision can act as an agent of change. It is an event to unite countries and communities and bring understanding.”