An Ironic Honor: Internet Governance Forum in Azerbaijan

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Policemen Man-handle Activist in Azerbaijan

Three policemen man-handle a political activist during a protest in Baku, Azerbaijan, March 12, 2011. ©IRFS

A United Nations initiative called Internet Governance Forum is about to have its annual forum in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, to discuss, among other issues, freedom of speech.

Yet in Azerbaijan, people who exercise this fundamental right to criticize President Ilham Aliyev, his family or government risk being threatened, attacked or imprisoned – whether they do so on- or off-line.

“They don’t jail all the bloggers. They pick up two or three who go – in their view – too far,” explains Emin Mill, an Azerbaijani digital dissenter who served time in prison for “hooliganism.” 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