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Azerbaijani Rights Activists Launch Eurovision Campaign

Ell & Nikki, the winners of the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest
BAKU -- Several Azerbaijani rights organizations have launched a public campaign about rights violations in the country ahead of Baku's hosting of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

The campaign, "Freedom Songs in a Non-Free Country," was launched last week. The organizers argue that Azerbaijan's Eurovision win by Ell & Nikki (Eldar Gasimov and Nigar Jamal) in May was not only a cultural event but also held socio-political significance.

The Azerbaijani duo's first place at the contest in Duesseldorf, Germany, meant that Baku would host the 2012 competition.

"Azerbaijan is not only the host country; it should also be represented in this contest as a true member of the European family that respects democratic values," read the organizers' statement on Facebook.

Anar Mammadli, an initiator of the campaign, told RFE/RL the activists want to see concrete changes from the Azerbaijani government.

"First, political prisoners should be released from jail," he said. "Second, we want public TV to provide more pluralism. Third, the right to freedom of assembly should be guaranteed. Fourth, we want to inform the world about violations of property rights. Finally, we are concerned about the visa regime. Foreigners coming to Azerbaijan regularly face this problem."

Mammadli said the campaign will hold public debates, issue statements, and publish and distribute posters and other materials. He added that activists will also try to meet with the Eurovision organizing committee to press their case.

Human rights activist Leyla Yunus told RFE/RL they want to focus Eurovision participants' attention on the deteriorating human rights situation in Azerbaijan.

The initiators of the campaign have appealed to domestic and international human rights organizations to join the campaign.

Read more in Azeri here

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