News 11th June 2015

Azerbaijan bans Amnesty International from Baku 2015 European Games

Amnesty International has been forced to cancel plans to travel to the European Games Baku 2015, which begins Friday, after being told by the Azerbaijani government that it is not welcome. Emma Hughes, from human rights organisation Platform, has also been deported after being told she was on a ‘red list’ of people not permitted to enter Azerbaijan. The Dutch government has also refused to support the Netherlands Olympic Committee’s (NOC/NSF) bid to host the 2019 European Games, although this is understood to be due to cost, not alleged human rights abuses.

‘The visit, which was intended to launch a briefing – Azerbaijan: the Repression Games. The voices you won’t hear at the first European Games – was cancelled after communication was received late yesterday afternoon from the Azerbaijan Embassy in London stating that “Azerbaijan is not in a position to welcome the Amnesty mission to Baku at the present time” and suggesting that any visit should be postponed until after the Games’, read a 10 June Amnesty statement. Amnesty said that on 1 June, it had informed Azerbaijani authorities that four of its delegates were due to fly to Baku on 10 June, only to be informed that they would not be welcome on the afternoon of 9 June.

The Azerbaijani government’s decision to advise Amnesty not to attend the Games follows its decision to deport human rights activist Emma Hughes, who is now back in the UK. ‘Emma was deported from Baku on an early flight on 10 June and is back in the UK’, read a Platform statement. ‘Emma was supporting political prisoners in Baku and investigating BP’s support for repression, and has now been detained herself. She has been told she is on a “red list” and is not allowed to enter the country.’

‘The joined national, provincial and local governments informed us this on Wednesday morning that they will not contribute financially to the organisation of the 2019 European Games in the Netherlands’, read a statement emailed from the Dutch Olympic Committee (NOC/NSF). ‘The NOC/NSF, therefore, has decided to hand back the organisation of this event to the EOC’. The European Olympic Committees (EOC) said in a statement that it would ‘resume its discussions with five other potential hosts that had previously expressed an interest in staging the European Games, and open up the selection process to fresh expressions of interest’.

Amnesty said that its planned briefing was designed to detail how Azerbaijani journalists, human rights defenders, opposition members and pro-democracy youth activists have been ‘harassed, arrested, jailed, attacked and tortured’ in a crackdown which Amnesty said had intensified as the Games approached. Amnesty said that the ‘systematic dismantling of civil society ahead of the European Games’ had undermined any hope for a positive lasting legacy from the event.

Amnesty said that there are over 20 ‘prisoners of conscience’ in Azerbaijan, including Rasul Jafarov, founder of the NGO, Human Rights Club; Leyla Yunus, a 60-year-old award-winning human rights activist; Intigam Aliyev, a prominent human rights lawyer, and more. Yunus was apparently arrested a few days after calling for a boycott of the Games in July, and her husband arrested a few days later. Amnesty’s statement also details a number of other alarming curtailments of freedom which it alleges have been perpetrated by the Azerbaijani government, including freezing the assets of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety; raids on media organisations; arrests of journalists and more.

Platform is calling on MPs to support an Early Day Motion – a submission for a debate to be considered in Parliament that is used by MPs to draw attention to issues – tabled in January, calling for the release of journalists and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan. EDM 718 currently has the support of 25 MPs. Platform is also planning a protest tomorrow at the headquarters of BP, and at the Azerbaijani embassy in London. Campaigners argue that by agreeing a 1994 contract with the Azerbaijani government to extract oil and transport it to Europe via a huge pipeline, BP is fuelling the government’s human rights abuses. BP is one of the official partners of the Baku 2015 European Games.

The 2015 European Games Baku, June 12-28, mark the first edition of the European Games since their launch in December 2014. Baku will host 6,000 athletes from 50 countries participating in 20 sports, and it will pay for their accommodation and travel. ‘The requirement was part of the host city contract and the obligation placed on the Baku 2015 Organising Committee by EOC’, read a joint statement issued by the Baku Organising Committee and the EOC to The Guardian. ‘The grants, calculated on the basis of the number of participating athletes and accompanying officials, are equally applicable to all 50 competing European National Olympic Committees. After the European Games, the EOC as the governing body will distribute a fund of €2.5m from the Games’ revenues across all the European NOCs and the European Federations of all participating sports, in the same way as the IOC following an Olympic Games’.

It is understood that the Dutch government baulked at spending an estimated €57.5 million on hosting the 2019 event. The BBC reports that the official cost of Baku 2015 is US$1.2 billion, however that the official cost may be much higher. ‘The event has reportedly cost £6.5 billion’, states Amnesty International.

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