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New Campaign Highlights Azerbaijani Rights Abuses Ahead Of Eurovision

Sabina Babayeva is Azerbaijan's entry for Eurovision.

Sabina Babayeva is Azerbaijan's entry for Eurovision.

A new video campaign is turning up the heat on this year's Eurovision Song Contest host Azerbaijan over the country's dubious human rights record.

After winning the 2011 contest, Azerbaijan earns the right to host the May 22-26 competition, which is one of the most-watched TV events in the world and known for its mix of kitschy pop music and garish costumes.

Sing for Democracy, a group based in Baku, is asking people to sign a petition calling on contestants to support human rights in Azerbaijan.

The video begins by showing the glitzy, modern side of Baku, before highlighting the unsolved murders and imprisonment of journalists, the controversial demolitions of Baku homes, and the brutal suppression of peaceful demonstrations.

If Eurovision entrants wanted any ideas on how to make a political statement, a poll on the Sing for Democracy website suggests they could dedicate their songs to human rights or wear clothes featuring images of political prisoners.

One of those mentioned in the campaign video is Khadija Ismayilova, an RFE/RL freelancer and investigative journalist, who was recently the target of a blackmail attempt after she received written threats and an intimate video of her was published on the Internet.

Azerbaijan has spent huge amounts of money in recent years rejuvenating the capital, Baku, much of it being spent on grandiose construction projects.

Human Rights Watch has criticized Azerbaijan for "the forcible eviction of residents to demolish the last standing building in the neighborhood of the capital, Baku, where the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest is to be held."

A woman stands near a demolished house in Baku last month.

A woman stands near a demolished house in Baku last month.

Amnesty International has also criticized the Azerbaijani authorities, saying that the contest should "lift the glitzy curtains" and expose the corruption, torture, ill-treatment, and unfair trials of dissidents in Azerbaijan.

An Amnesty campaign video, called "It's time for Azerbaijan to earn some points for human rights," similarly juxtaposes images of gleaming Azerbaijan -- where everyone is driving sports cars and sipping champagne on yachts -- with footage of police breaking up protests.

If the campaigns do convince some of the Eurovision performers to take a stand it could result in some embarrassing moments for the Azerbaijani hosts.

Last week, British songstress Sandie Shaw, who won the contest with "Puppet On A String" in 1967, joined the voices calling on Azerbaijan to put an end to media repression and rights violations.

About This Blog

"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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