Azerbaijan Retaliates Against Eurovision Democracy Activists

Press Release
June 13, 2012

Azerbaijan Retaliates Against Eurovision Democracy Activists

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-675-8579, @spksingh

(Washington, D.C.) -- Amnesty International today called for the immediate release of a 23-year-old video blogger, photojournalist and pro-democracy activist, detained since last night in Azerbaijan's capital Baku and believed to have been targeted for highlighting human rights abuses in the country during last month's Eurovision contest.

His arrest comes amid a worrying rise in police harassment of young activists who participated in protests around Eurovision.

"Mehman's arrest signals the start of the widely predicted government crackdown on those they consider responsible for negative publicity during Eurovision," said Max Tucker, Amnesty International's Azerbaijan campaigner. "The continued reluctance of European leaders to condemn shocking rights violations in the oil-rich country gives authorities leeway to exact their revenge."

Huseynov worked as the media coordinator for the "Sing for Democracy" campaign group, which encouraged Sweden's Eurovision entry Loreen – who went on to win the contest – to speak out about Azerbaijan's human rights problems.

He has been accused of "hooliganism" and faces five years in prison if convicted. The charge relates to an incident during a protest he was covering on May 21.

Eyewitnesses told Amnesty International that police deliberately smashed the cameras of Huseynov and a colleague, after which he swore at the officers. Under Azerbaijani law, hooliganism is a criminal offense only when it involves violence.

Five of the officers have testified that Huseynov not only swore, but acted "violently" – though they gave no further details. Two witnesses testify that he did nothing violent, and video footage of the incident appears to support their accounts.

Huseynov's photographs of peaceful protests being violently dispersed in Baku have been disseminated widely by international media and on social networks.

He is the youngest brother of Emin Huseynov, director of Azerbaijani NGO Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety, who led the "Sing for Democracy" campaign.

"We knew the authorities would take action against us, we just did not know how and when," Emin Huseynov told Amnesty International. "When will the international community tell our government enough is enough? I can only hope it will be in time to save my brother from prison."

Mehman Huseynov is now the seventh journalist in custody in Azerbaijan. If convicted, he would be the 15th prisoner of conscience in the country today.

According to the opposition Popular Front Party, three other youth activists who took part in protests during Eurovision have been harassed by police in the past week.

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.