Irish rock band U2 is demanding freedom for political prisoners in Azerbaijan, using the stage of its current North American concert tour to call attention to activists and journalists imprisoned by Azerbaijani authorities for speaking up about human rights.
Lead singer Bono made impassioned appeals at U2's June 12 and 13 concerts in Montreal's Bell Centre arena during the performance of the song Pride (In The Name Of Love).
Bono named Emin Huseynov, RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova, Anar Mammadli, Leyla Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, and Intigam Aliyev while their photos were displayed on a massive projection screen above the audiences of more than 21,000 each.
Probably unbeknownst to the band, Huseynov had quietly been shuttled out of Azerbaijan just an hour before the June 12 appeal, hitching a ride with Switzerland's foreign minister when the latter departed after the opening ceremony of the inaugural European Games in Baku. The 35-year-old head of the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety had been sheltered at the Swiss Embassy since August after Azerbaijani authorities targeted him with criminal charges that were widely seen as specious, and Swiss authorities said his departure from the country was the subject of months of quiet negotiations.
Huseynov now reportedly has three months to decide if he will seek asylum in Switzerland.
But the other five remain in Azerbaijani jails, either on convictions or in lengthy pretrial custody.
On June 12, Bono told the crowd that "free speech and expression are the building blocks of freedom."
As the audience sang along, he said, "Now we will sing tonight to Azerbaijan. Come on, you can hear us," then told the crowd, "Sing for Emin, Khadija, Anar, Rasul, Intigam -- for the right to speech and to speak truth to power."
On June 13, Bono told the crowd: "Blessed are the freedom makers. Sing for Amnesty. ... Six friends of ours who tonight are locked behind bars for the crime of expressing their opinion. Sing. Sing for Amnesty. Sing for Emin, Khadija, Rasul, Intigam, Anar, and Leyla. Sing. Sing a message of love from a city of love, Montreal. Sing.
"And a message to [Azerbaijani] President [Ilham] Aliyev. And that message is this, sir: If anything happens to one of our friends, we will hold you responsible!"
The band's official website described Bono's speech about the jailed Azerbaijani activists and journalists as "one of the biggest moments" of the June 13 concert.
U2's official website also noted that human rights activists from Amnesty International have been banned from attending the European Games that opened in Baku on June 12.
Bono's appeal was made at the request of Sport For Rights, an international coalition of nongovernmental organizations that promote human rights.
Sport For Rights coordinator Rebecca Vincent said the coalition is "thrilled that Bono spoke out on behalf of our jailed colleagues in Azerbaijan, including Sport For Rights founder Rasul Jafarov."
Vincent said "the world knows what is really taking place" in Azerbaijan and "will not keep silent."