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Eurovision Renegade: Still Paying The Price?


Rovshan Nasirli being detained by police at a pro-democracy rally in Baku on June 19.

Rovshan Nasirli being detained by police at a pro-democracy rally in Baku on June 19.

Remember Rovshan Nasirli, the Azerbaijani man who drew unwelcome attention from Baku security officials when he voted for rival Armenia in the 2009 Eurovision song contest?

Interrogators from the National Security Ministry traced the rogue vote for Inga and Anush's "Jan-Jan" to Nasirli's mobile phone, then summoned him in for questioning and a stern lecture on "ethnic pride" and "national security." (Nasirli may have stirred the pot by praising the Armenian song as sounding "more Azeri" than Azerbaijan's own offering.)

More than a year after the Eurovision scandal, Nasirli is back in the news.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports the 26-year-old was detained and beaten by police after attending a June 19 pro-democracy rally organized by the Freedom Bloc opposition group in Baku.

Jamil Hajiyev, a member of Azerbaijan's Democratic Party, was among five protesters detained during the rally. He told RFE/RL that when the detainees were taken to police headquarters, an argument broke out between Nasirli and several police officers.

Hajiyev says Nasirli was severely beaten by police, including the deputy chief of the Baku central police department, Yashar Aliyev.

"He was beaten in the head so much that his eyelids were swollen shut. He couldn't see," Hajiyev said.

A second detainee, Tofiq Zeynalli, a member of the Popular Front party, says he was also beaten by Aliyev. Baku police officials deny the beatings took place.

Nasirli's lawyer, Mensum Bayramov, was also detained after arriving at the police station to provide legal assistance to the detainees. Human rights ombudsman Elmira Suleymanova has appealed to prosecutors to thoroughly investigate the case and punish those responsible for any beatings.

It is not clear whether Nasirli, an activist with no party affiliation, was targeted because of his past run-in over Eurovision. A court has ordered him and the other detainees to spend 15 days behind bars.

-- Daisy Sindelar

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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