Don’t let Formula 1 sportswash Azerbaijan’s human rights abuses

This weekend, Azerbaijan hosts its first grand prix in Baku. The Formula 1 race is another example of the Azerbaijani government’s attempt to “sportswash” its image, after 2015’s Olympic spin-off, the European Games.

The Sport for Rights coalition, which campaigns for human rights in Azerbaijan in the face of an unprecedented crackdown, today calls on the government of Azerbaijan to immediately and unconditionally release the dozens of political prisoners held in the country simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Human Rights House Foundation supports the Sport for Rights campaign. 

“Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev regime is fixated on improving its image, and believes that it can be done using the international languages of sport and music. The elite athletes and performers gathering in Baku for the Grand Prix this weekend should be aware that their presence is being used as propaganda by a rights-abusing regime. They should take this opportunity to speak out and call for the release of political prisoners, instead of enabling repression”, said Sport for Rights coordinator, Rebecca Vincent. 

Azerbaijan’s state energy company, SOCAR, is a “global partner” of the Euro 2016 football championship in France. Last year, Azerbaijan spent a fortune hosting the European Games, an Olympic Games spin-off. Azerbaijan’s other forays into sport include being official shirt sponsor of Atletico Madrid between 2012 and 2015.

“If President Aliyev really wants the respect of the international community, instead of spending millions on sporting events, he should show commitment to democracy and the rule of law by repealing regressive laws, allowing journalists and NGOs work freely and releasing the many political prisoners held for expressing critical opinions. The PR boost Aliyev is after simply cannot be bought; tangible reforms are needed to truly improve Azerbaijan’s image.”, said Gulnara Akhundova of International Media Support. 

On Tuesday 21 June, HRHF will host, together with several NGOs, a side-event to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. Prominent civil society activists, who have spent several months and years in prison or been forced into hiding or exile, will discuss the human rights situation in the country.

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Use social media to support Azerbaijan’s prisoners.

Use your social media accounts; Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr to add your voice to Sport for Rights’ Thunderclap campaign to support political prisoners in Azerbaijan. 

On 19 June at 14:30 BST, accounts that have signed up to the campaign will automatically send out synchronized messages across social media.

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