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