Sara Hickman: Why I Am Not Going to Eurovision

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Policemen Man-handle Activist in Azerbaijan

Policemen man-handle a political activist during a protest in Baku, Azerbaijan, March 12, 2011. Azerbaijan is the host of the 2012 Eurovision song contest. ©IRFS

By Sara Hickman, Official State Musician of Texas

I have declined an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit a beautiful country and witness the world’s most-watched cultural event. That’s because my trip to Azerbaijan for Eurovision this week would be sponsored by a government responsible for grave human rights violations.  

Amnesty International has been diligently shining a light on human rights abuses in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan, which gets to host this year’s popular European concert competition – Eurovision. Azerbaijan has over a dozen recently-arrested prisoners of conscience, oppressed press, and almost no permitted political rallies.  I would love to visit Azerbaijan, but not at the expense of indirect association with human rights violations. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Can a Song Contest Help End Human Rights Abuses in Azerbaijan?

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Azerbaijan's Ell and Nikki celebrate with co-performers after winning the Eurovision Song Contest 2011. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

By Max Tucker, Azerbaijan campaigner at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London

One year ago, a series of peaceful protests against government repression in Azerbaijan were met with brute force by the authorities. The clampdown that followed resulted in the imprisonment of 17 activists and political figures, 14 of whom (including Tural Abbasli) are still behind bars today.

Shortly afterwards, on 14 May, Azerbaijan’s entry “Running Scared” won the Eurovision song contest, giving Azerbaijan the right to host the 2012 competition.

This was a doubly ironic event.

Firstly, the Eurovision Song Contest celebrates free expression, and is run by the European Broadcasting Union, an organization which claims to champion media freedom. Yet Azerbaijan has one of the worst environments for media and free expression in Europe.

Secondly, the title of Azerbaijan’s entry, “Running Scared,” is exactly what we saw scores of peaceful protesters doing when we visited Azerbaijan only a few weeks earlier, as they were pursued by heavy handed police. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Sharing the Pain of a War Jon Stewart Doesn't Remember

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“I don’t even remember this war,” said comedian Jon Stewart on The Daily Show on February 13, 2012 after his interviewee mentioned the post-Soviet Armenian-Azerbaijani fight for the region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s, an unresolved conflict that has claimed tens of thousands lives and displaced over a million people.

If Stewart is reading this, he should visit www.ourpain.org to commemorate the victims of the war, especially since February was the worst month of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

February 26, 1988, saw the beginning of a pogrom targeting the Armenian population of the Azerbaijani town of Sumgait, arguably setting the stage for the war. Exactly four years later, Azerbaijani civilians were killed during the Armenian takeover of  the town of Khojaly in the largest massacre of the war. And on February 19, 2004, an Azerbaijani officer, displaced due to the war,  murdered his Armenian counterpart at a NATO training in Europe.

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Jabbar Savalan Freed!

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“We will not be scared off by imprisonment or punishment. They may arrest us, but they can’t break us. Freedom of speech is our right, as it is the right of everyone. We will continue our struggle.” – Jabbar Savalan

Jabbar Savalan, an Azerbaijani student who spent almost 11 months in prison for a Facebook post, has been released!  He was freed after receiving a presidential pardon on December 26th.

Obviously the release of a prisoner of conscience is always a cause for celebration. We are delighted for Jabbar and his family. It is important now that his conviction is quashed and his reputation restored.

His case was part of Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon, during which hundreds of thousands of people in over 80 countries come together and take action to demand that peoples’ rights are respected. Over one million appeals were made as part of the 2011 marathon prior to Jabbar Savalan’s release.

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5 Countries Where Your Online Comments Could Land You in Jail

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free jabbar savalan facebook page

When you log onto Facebook, you might expect to hear from long-lost friends or to see pictures from the latest family reunion. Maybe you follow Amnesty on Facebook or Twitter, read and comment on this blog, or keep a blog yourself.

But when you log off at the end of the day, you probably don’t expect the police to come knocking on your door. For people in some countries, that’s exactly what can happen. A 2011 study by Freedom House examining 37 countries found that 23 of them had arrested a blogger or internet user for their online posts. These encroachments on internet freedom – regardless of laws – come at a time of explosive growth in the number of internet users worldwide. Governments are clearly terrified because they know that information is power.

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Tweet to Free Jabbar Savalan

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Remember how everyone sent birthday cards to prisoner of conscience Jabbar Savalan when he turned 20 in September? We’ve continued campaigning for his release, and the cards were intended to remind him that although he is in prison serving a two-and-a-half year sentence on trumped-up charges to punish him for his peaceful anti-government activities (using Facebook to call for protests against the Azerbaijani government), he is not alone.

Well, tomorrow (October 18th) Azerbaijan celebrates its own 20th birthday, of independence from the former Soviet Union, so we’re stepping up with a new action to remind the authorities they can’t suppress peaceful protest through bogus charges and jail sentences. We know from our Twitter action for Eynulla Fatullayev that we can have an impact in Azerbaijan and our messages will be read.

So today we’re starting a global twitter action with several other Amnesty sections calling for Jabbar Savalan’s release. Send a message to the President of Azerbaijan – @presidentaz on Twitter. Here are some sample messages for you to use:

 I’m calling on @presidentaz to release #Jabbar Savalan, locked up in #Azerbaijan for a #facebook post!

@presidentaz, Please release 20-year-old #Jabbar Savalan, arrested for using #facebook to call for peaceful protest in #Azerbaijan!

Then please send this tweet to share our twitter action with your contacts:

Join @amnesty in calling for the release of 20-year-old #Jabbar Savalan, jailed in #Azerbaijan for a #facebook post!

Don’t have a Twitter account? Why not join Twitter and give our action a try? You’ll also find it’s a great way to keep up-to-date with our campaign work!

Alternatively, you could share the message above on President Aliyev’s public Facebook page. Copy the text from the sample tweets above and add it as a comment to his latest update.

For more detail on Jabbar’s case, and to keep up to date with new actions in the campaign for his freedom, visit www.amnestyusa.org/freejabbar or join the Free Jabbar Savalan page on Facebook.

Student Activist Spends Birthday Behind Bars in Azerbaijan

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Jabbar Savalan

Jabbar Savalan behind bars after making a comment critical of the government on Facebook

Back in February, we told you about 19-year-old Jabbar Savalan, a student activist from Azerbaijan who had been arrested after he posted on Facebook calling for protests against the government.

In May, Jabbar Savalan was convicted on bogus charges and sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

This Sunday, September 4th 2011 Jabbar will turn 20 years old in prison. On his birthday we want Jabbar to know that he has the support of people all over the world.

Send him birthday cards showing your solidarity or post a birthday greeting on our Facebook page that we’ll deliver to Jabbar.  Let Jabbar know that he’s not alone and that we’re taking action to ensure he won’t have to spend another birthday behind bars.

You can also send a message to the President of Azerbaijan urging him to immediately and unconditionally release Jabbar from prison.

Join the “Free Jabbar Savalan” Facebook page

Freed Journalist's Letter of Thanks to Amnesty Activists

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Eynulla Fatullayev © Private

Just days after Amnesty activists organized a mass social media push to free imprisoned Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev last month, he was finally freed on May 26th.

Eynulla wanted us to pass on this letter to everyone who worked for his release to express his deepest thanks for your support.

To all Amnesty International activists

Dear friends,

I am a former prisoner of conscience – Eynulla Fatullayev. The other day I regained my cherished liberty, thanks to the efforts of the international community. I’m absolutely confident that it was your support and tireless struggle for my rights that enabled me to return to my life.

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It's Time for Women's Rights in South Caucasus

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Azerbaijan’s pardoning of its most celebrated journalist behind bars and Armenia’s release of all of its jailed oppositions is good news. But both ex-Soviet countries have a terrible record of women’s rights, and things seem to be getting worse.

Zaruhi Petrosian, a victim of domestic violence in Armenia

Armenia, for one, is the only country in the South Caucasus (which is made up of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia) without legislation on domestic violence. An ongoing trial of a man who murdered his wife is still being dragged while the woman’s mother-in-law, reportedly also involved in the killing, is free.

In November 2008, Amnesty International issued a report on domestic abuse in Armenia stating that more than a quarter of women in Armenia have faced physical violence at the hands of husbands or other family members. Many of these women have little choice but to remain in abusive situations as reporting violence is strongly stigmatized in Armenian society.

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Eynulla Fatullayev Pardoned!

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Just days after Amnesty activists organized a mass social media push to free imprisoned journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, he was released on May 26th!

An outspoken Azerbaijani journalist, Eynulla has long been targeted by a government intolerant of dissent. Despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that found Eynulla wrongfully imprisoned, he has been jailed since 2007 on a series of trumped up charges, including defamation, terrorism and incitement to ethnic hatred.

Amnesty activists around the world have taken many creative approaches to pushing for the release of Eynulla Fatullayev.  But this past week, we tried something new–we joined a global Amnesty Twitter action for Eynulla. Activists took to Twitter with photos and messages aimed at the President of Azerbaijan with the message “Free Eynulla Fatullayev!” (or in Azeri: “Eynulla Fatullayevi azad et”).

Sample tweet to free Eynulla

Although we welcome the news of Eynulla’s pardon and release, we have to see how the government follows through and we remain concerned about his safety and the safety of other journalists in Azerbaijan.  We’ll keep you posted.

Thanks again for all of your actions on behalf of Eynulla!