Azerbaijan, dictatorship and song contest

This video, recorded in Azerbaijan, says about itself:

22 May 2012

Today at 1pm, Public Chamber opposition activists held protests in several locations across central Baku.

The protesters gathered in front of Khagani shopping mall, and marched towards Fountain Square. Shouting “Resign”, “Freedom” and “No corruption”, they made several loops, before heading towards Sabir gardens, where they encountered police. The police were unable to take control of the protesters. Only after the arrival of special police units did the dynamic change. Violence was used against the protesters, and several plain-clothed policemen also used pressure on the protesters.

Dozens of protesters were detained, including activists from Azerbaijan Popular Front Party and other youth organizations.

Marches also took place in other areas of Baku. All of these protests took place before the eyes of numerous foreign journalists, who are in Baku to cover the Eurovision song contest.

Another march began in front of the Constitution Court, and went to the boulevard. Special purpose police units stopped them in the garden opposite the Puppet Theater. Police assaulted and detained a number of protesters. One woman fainted. Detainees were taken to Sabail District Police Office.

The police also used pressure on the journalists filming the demonstration. A photographer and operator of Objective TV were assaulted, and their video and photo cameras were damaged. One foreign journalist also encountered pressure from Azerbaijani police.

The Public Chamber had notified Baku Executive Power of their planned protest; however they were denied permission on the grounds that the request had come “too late”.

The Public Chamber also applied to hold a protest in front of the Public Television building on May 24th. Baku Executive Power advised that as the Eurovision semifinals will be held on the same day, this can be deemed as an impediment to the celebration of an international event.

More than 10 opposition activists are in prison in connection with last year’s protests of the opposition. Local and international human rights organizations demand the release of these prisoners.

From Tanjug news agency in ex-Yugoslavia:

May 24, 2012 | 15:42

Rights concerns shadow Eurovision in Azerbaijan

BAKU — Azerbaijan police on Thursday detained around 30 opposition activists who staged a protest in Baku which is hosting the Eurovision Song Contest.

The protesters were detained at the opposition rally attended by scores of people outside the state television station which is the Azerbaijani partner for Eurovision broadcasts.

“Thirty to 35 people were detained,” Public Chamber opposition alliance Spokeswoman Leila Mustafayeva told AFP.

Among those arrested were two women holding a placards saying “We want public TV, not Ilham TV” – a reference to Azerbaijan‘s strongman President Ilham Aliyev, whose activities and speeches dominate news broadcasts in the country.

The Public Chamber said in a statement posted on Facebook that four opposition politicians were also detained in the morning as they left their homes ahead of the protest, adding that one had subsequently been released, AFP has reported.

Rights activist Fuad Hassanov who was monitoring the protest called the police reaction typical.

“I’m not surprised because this is the usual life of the activists,” he said, adding that protesters were simply trying to “express their right to freedom of assembly.”

Human rights activists in Azerbaijan have decided to use the Eurovision Song Contest to draw media attention to the repression in the former Soviet republic.

The opposition accuses the Aliyev dynasty that has ruled Azerbaijan almost since the fall of the Soviet Union of clamping down on dissent and public protests, and of jailing political opponents on trumped-up charges.

Taking advantage of the unprecedented influx of foreign media to the capital Baku, activists are using tactics ranging from rallies to hunger strikes to draw attention to their cause, AFP says.

“For the first time in Europe, people have used Eurovision as a tool to try to resolve problems linked to human rights,” leading Azerbaijani rights campaigner and youth protest organizer Rasul Jafarov told AFP.

Wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Sing for Democracy”, Jafarov, 27, said he had asked one of the favorites, Sweden’s Loreen, to talk about rights during her appearance.

The Sing for Democracy movement, an alliance of groups and individual bloggers and journalists, plans several peaceful “walking” protests in Baku during the contest while the media spotlight is on Azerbaijan.

However, some activists are resorting to more drastic tactics, AFP reports.

In a ramshackle suburb of Baku, a group of six men sat on beds reading newspapers and chatting, a national flag pinned on the wall along with photos of political prisoners. The protest was taking place in the headquarters of the country’s main liberal opposition party, Musavat.

“It’s good that foreign journalists are coming and are interested,” said activist Oktay Lygenderei, but added he feared that “after Eurovision, mass arrests may begin.”

Musavat is part of an opposition alliance called the Public Chamber that has held two rallies this month broken up by police. It plans another unsanctioned demonstration Thursday outside the television centre.

Max Tucker of Amnesty International, which counts 17 prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan, travelled to Baku to rally media interest but warned of a possible backlash.

“The thing Amnesty International is extremely concerned about is after Eurovision finishes,” he stressed.

“This is a rare opportunity but unfortunately it’s not going to happen afterwards. When the Eurovision song contest ends, the government will go after all the critics. I’m absolutely sure,” said award-winning Radio Liberty journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who had been digging into the Aliyevs’ business involvement in the new Eurovision venue the Crystal Hall.

Eurovision song contest harms Azeris

I like sports. I like songs.

However, if a big sports event, like the London Olympic games; or a big singing event, like the Eurovision song contest in Baku, Azerbaijan, gets intertwined with polluting corporations, militarism, etc., then I don’t like that.

Shirin Baji Rzayeva in the ruins of her home in Baku, photo: Mitra Nazar

Translated from Dutch daily Metro today:

Song contest a curse for Baku

Residents of song contest city in Azerbaijan driven out of their homes for music festival.

“It was like a bomb exploded.” The Azeri Shirin Baji Rzayeva (58) had some experiences in her life. Soviet tanks in the streets of Baku and later the Karabakh war with Armenia. But when two weeks ago, in the middle of the night, a bulldozer destroyed the roof of her home, she was terrified.

Her whole street is now a ruin. Everywhere there are concrete blocks, loose stones and pieces of wood. The roof of the old apartment is a gaping hole. The sun shines directly on the kitchen table inside. “I hope that visitors of the Eurovision Song Contest will also see this. Our president treats people like animals,” says Rzayeva with a distorted face.

After winning the Eurovision Song Contest, the controversial president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev rapidly increased construction. … Millions are spent on expensive hotels, marble walls and brand new office buildings with shiny windows. The world’s tallest building is under construction and currently they are finishing building the extremely elitist Crystal Hall, where the contest will take place in late May.

Last month, 280 families were driven from their apartments for a new boulevard near the Crystal Hall. Then, it was the turn of the whole Shamsi Badalbayli street where Rzayeva had lived for decades with her family.

Azerbaijan: How President’s Daughters Ended Up Owning Mega-Million Dollars Holding Company: here.

Eurovision 2012: Azerbaijan’s gays not welcome at home: here.