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British Activist Barred From Azerbaijan Ahead Of European Games

The European Games logo is seen with Baku's famous Flame Towers in the background.

A British human rights activist says Azerbaijani authorities on June 9 prevented her from entering the country and marooned her at the airport, adding to evidence that Baku is systematically barring critics from appearing at the upcoming European Games.

Amnesty International, which planned to hold a briefing during the games on rights abuses, such as the jailing of journalists and opposition leaders, also was barred from entering the country.

Emma Hughes, a campaigner with the British rights group Platform London, told RFE/RL that she was detained while going through passport control at Baku’s Heidar Aliyev International Airport, where officials told her she had been placed on a blacklist.

“Since then, they’ve been holding me in the terminal,” said Hughes, who frequently criticizes human rights in Azerbaijan as well as British energy giant BP’s business dealings with the government of President Ilham Aliyev.

Ilham Aliyev holds the torch carrying the European Games' flame
Ilham Aliyev holds the torch carrying the European Games' flame

She told RFE/RL that immigration officials informed her she may have to wait until June 11 to be put on a plane out of Baku.

Western officials and international rights groups have accused Azerbaijan of launching a coordinated crackdown on government opponents, independent journalists, and NGOs.

Some 100 individuals widely described as “political prisoners” are believed to be held in Azerbaijan, which critics accuse of using the European Games to try to whitewash the country's poor human rights record.

Some 6,000 athletes from 50 countries are set to compete in the event, a European-only, quasi-version of the Olympics that kicks off in Baku on June 12 and ends on June 28.

Hughes told RFE/RL she was surprised to have been prevented from entering Azerbaijan because the event’s organizers had granted her press accreditation and she had purchased tickets to the event.

"I was certainly expected to get in, especially because they'd given me my accreditation and sold me tickets," she said.

Hughes said she planned to monitor human rights practices in Azerbaijan during her trip, including the case of Rasul Cafarov, an activist who was arrested in August after announcing plans for a campaign to draw attention to the rights situation ahead of the European Games.

Cafarov was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison in April after a trial on financial crimes charges he says were politically motivated.

In March, Giorgi Gogia, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said he was denied entry into Azerbaijan and stranded for 31 hours at the Baku airport after he traveled there to attend the trials of Cafarov and human rights lawyer Intiqam Aliyev.

Human rights defender Rasul Cafarov in 2013 before he was detained by police.
Human rights defender Rasul Cafarov in 2013 before he was detained by police.

Aliyev was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison in April after being convicted of tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, and abuse of office. Like Cafarov, he calls the charges against him politically motivated.

Amnesty International has recognized both men as prisoners of conscience.

Azerbaijan’s refusal to allow Hughes to enter the country came on the same day the pro-government APA news agency published an article accusing her organization, Platform London, of participating, alongside major British media outlets, in a "vile mission" to discredit the European Games and pressure BP, a sponsor of the event.

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.