HEATED DEBATE ON HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION FOR EUROVISION JOURNALISTS

May 23rd, 2012
The organizers of the Sing for Democracy campaign held a press conference at Park Inn Hotel for local and international journalists.

The Sing for Democracy campaign has been working to bring international scrutiny to the human rights situation in Azerbaijan, in the context of the Eurovision song contest in Baku.  At a campaign press conference for international journalists, Human Rights Club chairman Rasul Jafarov introduced members of the campaign, who presented their findings and took questions.

“Azerbaijan is governed by a mafia group. Currently there are more than 70 political prisoners in Azerbaijan. The participants of peaceful demonstrations are sentenced to several years’ punishment, compared to Russia, where demonstrators get 15 days’ detention,” said Peace and Democracy Institute director Leyla Yunus, making reference to Islamic Party activists sentenced to 10-12 years imprisonment, the 7 journalists and 4 human rights defenders currently in jail.  She spoke of the 60 000 Baku residents illegally evicted from their houses. Her message to foreign journalists was:  “Say “no” to treacherous European politicians, who take bribes from the Aliyev regime, and “yes” to democracy in Azerbaijan.”

Her speech was met with a uproar from pro-government and state media representatives. Xalg Gazeti newspaper correspondent Aligismat Badalov tried to shout down the panel, and to convince foreign journalists that people in jail aren’t journalists; they just have journalist IDs.  IRFS chairman Emin Huseynov listed the names of all the arrested journalists.

Democratic Journalism School head Rovshan Hajibayli said that Public Television of Azerbaijan has been violating the principles of political pluralism set by European Broadcasting Union.

Referring to next year’s presidential elections, the head of Political Freedoms Alliance Anar Mammadli stated that Azerbaijanis do not have access to free and fair elections.

Head of the Alliance for the Protection of Political Freedoms Shahvalad Chobanoglu noted that the aim of Sing for Democracy campaign is to reveal what lies behind the shiny buildings and glittering facades of Baku, to expose the real lives of real people.

The organizers of the campaign answered the question of foreign media representatives. State media correspondents also were very active.

When asked by a number of foreign journalists what is expected after Eurovision, Leyla Yunus predicted another government clampdown on fundamental freedoms.