Azerbaijan: Government Silences Human Rights Defenders Ahead of Baku Games

Azerbaijani authorities have barred Amnesty International (AI) from entering the country to give a briefing ahead of the European Games.

Khadija IsmayilovaAI was due to present its publication Azerbaijan: the Repression Games in Baku on Wednesday. Buton Tuesday afternoon the Azerbaijani Embassy in London told the campaigning organization that the briefing would be postponed until after the Games, AI reports.

AI's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, Denis Krivosheev, said the development was "deeply ironic" since the briefing would have focused on how the government has arrested and silenced human rights activists, journalists and opposition members throughout the past year.

On the same day AI announced its barring from Azerbaijan, authorities at the airport in Azerbaijani capital Baku detained and red-listed Emma Hughes, a British activist from the London-based human rights organization Platform.

Platform has heavily criticized the business relationship between the oil-and-gas giant BP and Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev's regime.

Hughes had intended to report on government repressions during the European Games, which start on Friday, June 12, in Baku. Friday will also be marked by the publication of a new book by Hughes in conjunction with Platform, called All that Glitters – Sport, BP and Repression in Azerbaijan. The work outlines the role of BP in the Baku Games, as well as in creating the Aliyev dynasty.

Hughes reported that she had been held for a short time and deported back to London the next day.

According to Platform, the Aliyev regime and BP use sports events to draw attention away from corrupt practices. It claims that the oil company, which is the largest foreign investor in Azerbaijan, has "entrenched" the Aliyev regime. These investments, claims Platform, make up a substantial part of Aliyev's government spending since 1994. Finance from BP also allegedly aids Aliyev in gaining prestige with the United States, European Union and United Kingdom (UK). Platform has criticized the UK government for staying silent about the problems with democracy in Azerbaijan. 

Both AI and Hughes have also been vocal in their support of investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who was detained while investigating large-scale corruption by the Aliyev regime in December 2014.

Ismayilova is still in jail today, awaiting trial on charges that AI has called politically motivated.

The Azerbaijani government has been quick to retaliate against others who have voiced support for Ismayilova, too.

After the Turkey-based daily newspaper Hurriyet published an article about Ismayilova's findings and the circumstances of her detention, the Azerbaijani government blocked satellite access to the TV channels of the Dogan Media Group, which is the company that owns Hurriyet.

According to the Haber Star news website, Azerbaijan has barred TV channels CNN Turk and Kanal D.

The article that brought on such ire was titled For Khadija, and promotes the Khadija Project – an initiative by journalists from several different countries who decided to collaborate to continue Ismayilova's investigations.