Flush with oil and gas revenues, Azerbaijan is trying to raise its profile abroad, transforming its capital, Baku, into a glittering Dubai-style city. At the same time, it’s gearing up to host Eurovision, the long-running song contest with music acts from 56 countries, expected to draw more than 100 million television viewers this May. Because of the Azeri government’s repressive policies, however, this years’ Eurovision will happen in the shadow of serious human rights violations.

Baku, Azerbaijan

Allow Free Speech, Stop Illegal Evictions

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THE FACTS

People Are Silenced
Azerbaijan has pledged that Eurovision contest participants – including performers, press, crew, and fans – will be guaranteed freedom of speech. Yet the Azerbaijan government doesn’t respect its own citizens’ freedom of speech. Journalists are routinely harassed and intimidated, and critical journalists can be locked up under the country’s strict libel laws. Others have been victims of bogus criminal charges, like drug possession, and imprisoned. The government has banned all foreign radio stations on FM frequencies, including BBC and Radio Free Europe.

Activists Are Imprisoned
Dozens of political prisoners, including bloggers, are locked up in Azerbaijan. Inspired by the Arab Spring, young people peacefully took to the streets in 2011. The police detained hundreds, and 12 activists remain behind bars.

Illegal Evictions
For the past few years, the government of Azerbaijan has illegally evicted people from apartments and houses, demolishing buildings in Baku as part of government-sponsored beautification projects.

In one Baku neighborhood, hundreds of families were forcibly evicted to make way for a highway and a park serving as a grand entryway to a newly built, glass-encased arena, the Baku Crystal Hall. Some residents were forced out without warning, at times in the middle of the night. Homes have been torn down while the owners’ possessions – furniture, clothing, photos – were still inside. The 2012 Eurovision Song Contest will be the first major event hosted in the arena.

WHAT WE WANT

Allow Fair Coverage
Journalists who cover the Eurovision Song Contest should be able to show the full picture of life in Azerbaijan, including the government’s human rights record. Journalists should not be harassed, intimidated, attacked or slapped with spurious criminal charges.

The Eurovision song contest is governed and organized by the European Broadcast Union (EBU), an association of broadcast media organizations. The EBU should help to ensure freedom of the press, for foreign and Azerbaijani journalists alike, as it has a mandate to protect freedom of expression.

Allow Peaceful Protests
The Azeri government should allow activists and others to gather peacefully to express their opinions. Police should never use violence against peaceful protestors and should allow journalists to freely cover demonstrations.

Release Political Prisoners
The Azerbaijani authorities should release those imprisoned on politically motivated charges and end its policy of detaining peaceful protesters.

Stop Illegal Evictions
The government of Azerbaijan should stop illegally evicting people from their homes in the course of its city “beautification” efforts.

Pay A Fair Price
The government typically offered forcibly evicted residents some financial compensation for their apartments. But the offers often were nominal in comparison to the value of their homes – sometimes located in highly desirable areas with sea-side views. Although property owners will never get their homes back, they should be fairly compensated for their loss, in accordance with the law.

The EBU should use its influence to press the Azerbaijani government to act legally and pay a fair price for the expropriated properties in the area of the Baku Crystal Hall. Hundreds of families were illegally evicted from this area.