BAKU—International human rights advocacy group Amnesty International has been prohibited by the Azeri government from visiting the country ahead of the first European Games being hosted in Baku, The Guardian reports.
Amnesty International had been planning to launch a new report highlighting Azerbaijan’s recent widespread crackdown on freedom of speech and political opposition. However, just as Amnesty officials prepared to travel, they received a message from the Azerbaijan Embassy in London on Tuesday saying it was “not in a position to welcome the Amnesty mission to Baku at the present time.”
The decision to bar Amnesty came as Emma Hughes, a human rights campaigner with Platform who has previously been critical of BP’s role in co-operating with Azerbaijan, was stopped from entering the country. After arriving on Tuesday Hughes, who had been given press accreditation to cover the games, was told she was on a “red list” and held in the terminal before being put on a flight out of Baku, according to The Guardian.
The European Games, featuring 6,000, begin on Friday in Baku’s new 68,000-capacity national stadium.
Organizers of the event, including the European Olympic Committee, hope the event will be established as a stable in the sporting calendar. However, the buildup has been overshadowed by concerns that Azerbaijan, in using the event to promote itself to the world, is simultaneously cracking down on critics inside the country.
The venues and infrastructure to host 20 sports in Azerbaijan cost a reported £6.5bn and the six months preceding the games have seen a string of critics arrested on what are widely agreed to be trumped-up charges, The Guardian reports.
They include an investigative reporter, Khadija Ismayilova, who won a PEN prize earlier this year for her work exposing corruption, and Intigam Aliyev, a human rights lawyer who has taken more than 300 cases to the European court of human rights.
Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, Denis Krivosheev, said: “It is deeply ironic that the launch of a briefing outlining how critical voices in the country have been systematically silenced ahead of the European Games cannot be held. But rather than bury this message, the actions of the authorities have only highlighted their desperate attempts to create a criticism-free zone around the games.
“Far from advancing the goals of press freedom and human dignity enshrined in the Olympic charter, the legacy of these games will be to further encourage repressive authorities around the world to view major international sporting events as a ticket to international prestige and respectability.”
Amnesty says there are at least 20 prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan, detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. Campaigners within the country have drawn up a list of at least 80 political prisoners, and many more have faced harassment from the authorities, had their assets seized or had to withstand pressure being placed on their families.