Rights Organisations Target Eurovision

Amnesty International is the latest human rights organisation to use the Eurovision Song Contest as a platform to criticise the government of host nation Azerbaijan.

Amnesty, which intends to have a representative in Baku during the lead up to the Eurovision final May 26, has urged Azerbaijani authorities to address the country’s poor human rights record and allow critical voices to be heard without restriction throughout the country.

The country, which is hosting Eurovision because it won the 2011 event, has been drawing so much flak that it’s becoming a little embarrassing for the European Broadcasting Union, which organises the annual competition.

The EBU has been criticised for taking a soft line on the issue, although on May 2 it organised a workshop to discuss “human rights trends in the Republic of Azerbaijan” in regards to the freedom and independence of the press, and the persecution of journalists.

It seems Amnesty still doesn’t feel the EBU is doing enough and is sending out Max Tucker, one of its experts on the country, to facilitate press freedom by making himself available for interviews on Azerbaijan’s track record regarding human rights.

On May 22, he will be joined by relatives and lawyers of victims of human rights violations.

Human Rights House Network, which support human rights organisations across the globe, says the EBU should do more to pressure the Azerbaijani government to honour its commitment to an open debate on the subject.

The EBU does at least seem to be reacting to the pressure. At the Center for Global Dialogue & Cooperation annual meeting in Vienna May 18, EBU director general Ingrid Deltenre made a speech about the importance to democracy of a free and independent media.

Azerbaijan, which is at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, has been an independent state since the dissolution of the old Soviet Union in 1991.

Although it’s a member of such bodies as the Human Rights Council and Council of Europe, it’s largely ignored international protest over its treatment of political prisoners.

Police reportedly use torture as a way of gaining confessions, and – during the last three years – three journalists have been killed and several prosecuted in trials described as unfair by international human rights organizations.

British Eurovision entrant Engelbert Humperdinck was said to be furious with the BBC, after being ambushed by reporters from TV documentary programme “Panorama,” which was due to screen an investigation into Azerbaijan’s human rights record May 21.