(Washington, D.C.) -- The refusal of the organization behind Eurovision to condemn human rights abuses in Azerbaijan hands a "blank check" to the government's crackdown, Amnesty International said today, following reports that another two peaceful protests were violently dispersed.
"Despite publicly committing to support free expression in Azerbaijan, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has maintained a deathly silence on recent, repeated violations of that right," said Max Tucker, Amnesty International's Azerbaijan campaigner, who is currently in the country's capital Baku. "The lack of action by the EBU and the international community is giving the authorities a blank check to continue violently crushing dissent without consequence."
Azerbaijan is hosting the song contest from May 22-26. On Monday, more than 200 demonstrators gathered in two locations in central Baku, calling for an end to corruption and respect for human rights.
According to protest organizers, police forced participants onto buses and drove them out of town, beating several and detaining 38.
One of the organizers, Abulfaz Gurbanly, told Amnesty International that he was punched, kicked and hit with a truncheon while being held at a police station. He said that several other protesters were also beaten in custody.
The peaceful protests were dispersed in full view of international journalists, casting doubt on the EBU's assertions that bringing international media attention to Baku would improve the human rights situation.
"The increased media coverage will be meaningless if it does not persuade Azerbaijan's diplomatic and business partners to act in defense of freedom of expression," Tucker said. "Authorities seem to think they can ride out negative coverage unscathed, leading to a renewed crackdown on dissent.”
Amnesty International has noticed a fresh wave of human rights violations in Azerbaijan. A recent briefing documented numerous cases where journalists and human rights defenders have been attacked, blackmailed and imprisoned. The EBU has not publicly commented on any of these cases.
The organization is also concerned that local activists who have sought to use Eurovision to highlight rights abuses will be targeted after the event.
State-owned newspapers have already started a smear campaign against leaders of the Sing for Democracy campaign, labeling them as agents of neighboring Armenia, with whom Azerbaijan has had a territorial dispute for the last 20 years.
"We hope the international journalists we have spoken to in recent weeks will not forget us after Eurovision," said Rasul Jafarov, one of the Sing for Democracy campaign organizers. "That could be very dangerous for us."
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.