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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.
Environmental activist Yevgenia Chirikova leaves a court building in Moscow on April 10.
A Russian opposition figure and environmental activist is to be awarded one of the world's most repected environmentalist awards, the Goldman Environmental Prize, in San Francisco.

Yevgenia Chirikova, along with six others, will be presented with a $150,000 Goldman award in a ceremony in San Francisco later on April 16.

"I will do all I can to make sure the swindlers and thieves face the biggest obstacles as they try to capture our land," Chirikova said in a video message posted on YouTube. "I'm going to spend all of this money to help all kinds of groups and initiatives that defend our land."

The announcement came as an activist in her movement was severely beaten by an unknown assailant near his home on April 16.

Aleksei Dmitriyev told RFE/RL's Russian Service he was entering his apartment block in the city of Khimki, northwest of Moscow, when he was accosted and beaten.

"I was about to call the elevator when I heard someone running. I turned around and saw a tall man. He started hitting me in the face and then knocked me down," Dmitriyev said. "When I came back to my senses, I was in a puddle of my own blood."

Dmitriyev suffered a dislocated arm, deep cuts, and a broken tooth in the beating.

Local police have launched an investigation into the beating.

Chirikova's movement was established in 2007 when she and other Khimki residents challenged a plan by local authorities to construct a major Moscow-St. Petersburg highway through previously protected Khimki forest land.

Chirikova and fellow activists launched a massive protest campaign to block the highway plan, with many members camping out in the forest year-round.

Chirikova has been arrested several times since the start of the protest, and a number of activists and journalists associated with the Khimki Forest Defenders have been beaten.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev appeared to bow to the mounting pressure of Chirikova's campaign, saying he would halt the construction of the highway pending an environmental evaluation. Plans for the highway continue, however.

The Khimki movement has gradually evolved into a major political group in Russia that opposes many of the Kremlin's domestic policies and played a key role in the protests leading up to the country's presidential election last month.

With reporting by Interfax and ITAR-TASS

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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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