Europe – or some sections of it – is focused on the glitz and schlock of the annual Eurovision Song Contest, which kicks off today in Azerbaijan's capital city, Baku. But despite promises to respect rights to free speech and expression, President Ilham Aliyev's regime continues to crack down on peaceful protests.
Yesterday, demonstrators at two unauthorised rallies against Aliyev were broken up violently by uniformed and plainclothes police, who kicked and beat activists as they were arrested and loaded into buses.
'A dark shadow'
The Aliyev family has exercised near-total control of the Caucasus state and its economy since 1969 – first as part of Soviet Russia and now as an independent country. The Economist's 2011 Democracy Index ranks Azerbaijan at 140 out of 167 countries and labels it an “authoritarian regime". Reporters Without Borders places Azerbaijan near the bottom of its press freedom index.
Aliyev is under fire from activists for his repressive and corrupt rule, and his habit of threatening journalists and jailing and beating political opponents has prompted calls for a boycott of the Eurovision event to draw attention to the regime's human rights abuses.
Giorgi Gogia, senior South Caucasus researcher at Human Rights Watch, says: “The Azerbaijani authorities have gone to great lengths to prepare and polish Baku ahead of Eurovision, but police roughing up peaceful protesters casts a very dark shadow on all the festivities.”
Read more: This Human Rights Watch briefing explains why this year's Eurovision event "will happen in the shadow of serious human rights violations".
Further action: What should we do to express our dislike of this whitewashing of a brutal state? Let's share ideas below.