Azerbaijan – Can an event like the Eurovision Song Contest change an authoritarian country like Azerbaijan? Apparently it can’t. During the Eurovision Song Contest 2012, many human rights activists voiced their concern that once the international media attention would fade, the Azeri government would take revenge on human rights activists and opposition members for blemishing the perfect façade the government tried to uphold for the event.
They apparently were right: As balcanicaucaso.org reports, the country’s presidential spokesperson, Ali Hasanov fiercely criticized democracy and human rights advocates, local and international human rights organizations, independent journalists and opposition party members for their “inappropriate and shameful” behavior. “In which part of the world are opposition parties as free as they are in Azerbaijan? […] Civil society organizations should mobilize in resistance against such groups [journalists, human rights defenders, Human Rights House, Amnesty International]. You civil organizations have to stand against all of these groups. These opposition activists, journalists, and media outlets shouldn’t be brave enough to go into the city. They should feel ashamed. Public hatred should be demonstrated against them […]”
This call for public hatred was accompanied by police actions against human rights activists throughout the country. Arrests, detention, inhuman treatment and organized attacks against opposition has increased since the end of the Eurovision Song Contest, says human rights organization Article 19. The following example stands in for many similar events happening in Azerbaijan right now. The editor-in-chief of the Talishi Sado (“Voice of Talysh”) newspaper, Hilal Mamedov has been arrested. First he was charged with drug possession, now the charges were changed to treason and ethnic, religious and racial hatred.
Mamedov is a widely known defender of human rights. He published a YouTube video called “Who are you? Come on, goodbye” which has been seen over 10 million times, especially in neighbouring Russia. In a letter from prison, Mamedov explains why he has been arrested. After the video gained so much popularity in Russia, a Russian television channel came to his region to talk about the Talysh culture. After the report, Mamedov was attacked by 7 men and “They accused me of separatism and of spreading opposition propaganda on Facebook and other social networks,” he says.
Democracy is also under attack in Baku: In June, the Azeri parliament passed a new bill granting the ruling members of the Aliyev family “wide-ranging immunity from arrest and prosecution for any crime committed during his presidency or while acting in his capacity as president,” saying that these measures were necessary in the current political climate.
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