Human Rights Activists banned from entering Azerbaijan 

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June 10, Baku: Human Rights activists from Amnesty International and Platform have been banned from entering Azerbaijan on the eve of the European Games on Wednesday.

According to reports, both the organisations have been highly critical of President Ilham Aliyev’s government, and its continued  jailing and prosecution of activists and journalists. Amnesty was set to present its findings on the state of human rights in Azerbaijan at an event in the capital on 10 June.

Emma Hughes of London-based NGO Platform was travelling to Baku on Tuesday afternoon with a press accreditation. After landing she was taken off the plane by security for questioning, where she was told she was on a “red list”. Her passport was taken away and she was held overnight at the airport before being deported. CCTV images of Hughes in detention surfaced in Azerbaijani media on Tuesday.

Platform has been campaigning against British oil company BP’s involvement in the oil rich former Soviet state. Platform’s new book — All that Glitters — Sport, BP and Repression — written by Hughes, will be released on 12 June, on the opening day of the games.

“I’m being detained on the orders of the BP-Aliyev regime. I may get deported, but over 100 political prisoners in Azerbaijan face years in jail until the oil-funded regime falls. Civil society has been stamped on hard in Baku. Journalists, lawyers, academics, writers and activists have all found themselves behind bars. And yet the Oil Games carry on regardless. The future of this country is imprisoned, yet BP still work hand in hand with this regime,” Hughes was quoted saying,before her deportation.

Naomi Westland, who works on issues around sports and human rights at Amnesty while talking to the media said, “Amnesty being barred proves all the criticism levelled at Azerbaijan has been absolutely right. There has been an intense crackdown on human rights ahead of the European Games. This proves the Azerbaijani authorities want to create a criticism free zone while the World‘s media is in attendance. The games are a massive PR exercise to present Azerbaijan as a modern, dynamic, progressive state. Behind the scenes, the reverse is the case. Amnesty has become victims of the repression meted out in Azerbaijan.”

Over the past few years, the human rights situation in Azerbaijan has deteriorated in the months leading up to the games. Since last summer, the country’s most prominent critical voices — including investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, human rights activists Leyla and Arif Yunus, human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev and pro-democracy campaigner Rasul Jafarov — have been jailed on charges widely dismissed as trumped up and politically motivated. Critics believe the government of President Ilham Aliyev is using the games as and international image laundering exercise.

The Oslo Times and Agencies

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