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Rihanna, Shakira Urged To Cancel Shows In Azerbaijan

Two human rights groups are urging Rihanna (left) and Shakira to cancel their scheduled appearances in Azerbaijan this month.
Two human rights groups are urging Rihanna (left) and Shakira to cancel their scheduled appearances in Azerbaijan this month.
Think twice, it's not all right.

That's the message that the international human rights group Amnesty International and the Azerbaijani Sing For Democracy human rights campaign is sending to pop-music megastars Rihanna and Shakira.

The two singers are scheduled to appear in Baku during the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup -- Rihanna on October 6 and Shakira on October 14.

In a statement, the two rights group say that Rihanna and Shakira "should bear in mind the human rights abuses being inflicted on the people of Azerbaijan before they perform."

Amnesty and Sing For Democracy use their statement to remind Rihanna and Shakira about the continuing arrest and persecution of journalists, bloggers, and activists in Azerbaijan, including the 2005 murder of reporter Elmar Huseynov.

The letter is signed by John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia program director, and the coordinator of Sing For Democracy, Rasul Jafaro.

The letter also points out the ban on antigovernment protests in the center of Baku and the "spurious" criminal case -- "on trumped-up hooliganism charges" -- against photojournalist Mehman Huseynov.

Huseynov had actively been involved in a human rights campaign conducted ahead of the Eurovision 2012 Song Contest. If convicted, Mehman faces five years in jail.

“Amnesty International believes that the Azerbaijani government should afford all artists, journalists, activists and ordinary citizens the right to express themselves freely without fear of reprisal. We hope that you share our belief,” concludes the letter.

No reaction yet from either Rihanna or Shakira, the latter of whom found herself in a bit of an international brouhaha in September 2011 when her name was linked to an over-the-top birthday party thrown by another notorious violator of human rights -- Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Though a Kadyrov spokesman said she had all but confirmed her appearance, Shakira denied on Twitter that she had been scheduled to perform for the Chechen strongman. And she didn't perform, in the end, allowing her to avoid the controversy that accompanied Oscar-winning actress Hillary Swank's appearance at the same event.

Loreen meets with Natalya Pinchuk, the wife of Belarusian political prisoner Ales Byalyatski.
Loreen meets with Natalya Pinchuk, the wife of Belarusian political prisoner Ales Byalyatski.
Swedish pop singer Loreen, the winner of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest hosted by none other than Azerbaijan, seems to have found a way to both perform for her fans in repressive countries and draw attention to the dismal human rights situations those same fans have to endure in their daily lives.

Shortly after her win in May, Loreen visited the Baku offices of the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety and met with, among others, Mehman Huseynov, before his arrest in a post-Eurovision crackdown.

"Human rights are violated in Azerbaijan every day," Loreen said at the time. "One should not be silent about such things."

Then, in July, Loreen traveled to Belarus -- Europe's infamous "last dictatorship -- to perform for her fans at a government-sponsored music festival. But she also used the platform of her appearance in Belarus to issue a statement in support of political prisoners in the country, to meet with the wife of imprisoned Belarusian human rights campaigner Ales Byalyatski, and to sign a petition at the Swedish Embassy in Minsk calling for the end of the death penalty in Belarus.

As Valer Kalinouski of RFE/RL's Belarus Service wrote at the time:

The Moroccan-born singer said she had some initial reservations about accepting an invitation to the music festival in the northern city of Vitebsk, but then reconsidered.

"I have people that like my music here. And people have a right to culture. And me not coming is a disrespect to them," she said. "I'm not here for anybody else but the people that like culture and music. And that's the only reason I stand on that stage -- to share something that I have. That's one thing. And two, to speak my mind, because I'm free, basically. That's what I do."

-- Grant Podelco