Leadership of EOC should demand release of journalists and activists from government of Azerbaijan 

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May 14,Brussels: The Committee to protect journalists and Human Rights Watch said today, that the leadership of the European Olympic Committees (EOC) should demand the release of journalists and activists a head of the European Games from the Government of Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan will have the recreations, a multi-sport occasion for more than 6,000 competitors, in Baku from June 12-28, 2015.
Jane Buchanan, associate Europe and Central Asia chief at Human Rights Watch said: “Speedy to acclaim President Ilham Aliyev’s arrangement for the inaugural European Games, the EOC authority has so far kept up a public silence in the face of genuine misuse and suppression by Azerbaijan’s legislature against its critics,”.”The window to at last talk up before the recreations open is shutting quick, however the EOC still has a chance to support Olympic qualities, including by unambiguously calling for prisoner releases.

The European Olympic Committees, an association of 50 National Olympic Committees, owns and regulates the games. The 17 National Olympic Committee leaders, who make up the EOC’s Executive Committee, or governing board, will meet on May 14 in Antalya, Turkey, in their final gathering before the European Games.

Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists sent a letter to all 17 Executive Committee members on May 12, urging the EOC to call on Azerbaijan to release those imprisoned on politically motivated charges, including journalists and human rights defenders, and to end its crackdown on critical voices before the opening ceremony of the games.

The EOC and its members are part of the Olympic Movement and governed by the Olympic Charter, which has explicit guarantees for press freedom and insists that sport promotes “human dignity” and “the harmonious development of humankind.”

In the year leading up to the games, the government of Azerbaijan has carried out an unprecedented crackdown to silence critical journalists, human rights defenders, and opposition activists, including by arresting dozens on bogus criminal charges carrying long prison sentences. Among those in detention and facing up to 12 years in prison if convicted on multiple false charges is the country’s leading investigative journalist, Khadija Ismayilova.

“Azerbaijani authorities have demonstrated time and again that they will not tolerate criticism but use intimidation, harassment, politically motivated prosecution, imprisonment, and physical attacks to silence independent voices,” said Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “The EOC’s leadership must not keep silent while the journalists most capable of ensuring the full, free coverage of the European Games, as stipulated by the Olympic Charter, languish behind bars.”

The organizations also called on the EOC to establish a standing mechanism to enable journalists covering the games to report interference in their work and secure a swift response from the EOC.

The EOC vice president, Janez Kocijancic, sought to dismiss any meaningful role for the EOC in addressing human rights concerns in Azerbaijan during a hearing in the European Parliament on May 6. According to media reports, Kocijancic contended that the EOC “cannot accept political engagements,” but also claimed that the EOC will use “whatever influence we have to make this society better and more open.”

“The EOC needs to use its unique leverage with Azerbaijan in the run-up to Baku 2015 to stand up for press freedom and human dignity,” Ognianova said. “These values are universal ones that Azerbaijan has voluntarily committed to uphold.”

In addition to the dozens of journalists and activists behind bars, many other critics have fled the country or gone into hiding, fearing persecution. The government has shuttered dozens of nongovernmental organizations and media outlets and virtually eliminated all possibilities for independent groups critical of the government to secure foreign financing.

“EOC leaders absolutely have a responsibility to use their influence for positive change and ensure that the inaugural European Games are the great success everyone wants,” Buchanan said. “But if the EOC continues to be a silent partner in the face of such serious human rights abuses, the games risk being forever tarnished by both the abuses and the complacency of those who have the power to make a difference.”

The Oslo Times

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