The most severe crackdown on activists in the Eurasia region occurred in Azerbaijan, where youth groups, academics, political activists and NGOs became the targets of government repression.
To highlight this crackdown, Rasul Jafarov, a 29 year old human rights activist launched a campaign to use 2012 Eurovision song contest—which was hosted in Baku—to showcase the country’s poor human rights record. Working in coalition with three other local organizations, all NED grantees, he coordinated the “Sing for Democracy” campaign. It lasted 10 months and the project, supported by NED, was successful in both raising awareness and fostering the cooperative efforts of civil society organizations in Azerbaijan.
“Eurovision must be yet another tool to promote Azerbaijan’s European integration, first of all through the improvement of the situation with human rights,” Jafarov said.
Jafarov coordinated the efforts of numerous local civil society activists to advocate for the protection of human rights and democratic values in Azerbaijan. Together, they reached out to foreign diplomats, journalists, and regulators ahead of the contest to “lobby for the implementation of specific democratic reforms.”
The campaign organized numerous events, reports, and press conferences which Azerbaijani journalists, human rights defenders and watchdog groups were able to highlight the government’s repression on an international level. The New York Times, BBC, Economist, and Al-Jazeera were among dozens of international media that carried stories about Azerbaijan’s poor human rights record, information which was gathered directly from Sing for Democracy’s press events and publications.
“The past ten years [in Azerbaijan],” Jafarov said about the necessity of the campaign, “have not seen the deep-rooted public-political reforms and guarantees of human rights and democratic values that are necessary for integration with the European community…freedom of expression, freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, and property rights are under threat.”
Many protests took place during the Eurovision competition, and journalists and peaceful protesters were arrested and assaulted by authorities. This only encouraged additional reporting by international news outlets and led to the European Parliament’s resolution asking Azerbaijan to “stop suppressing freedom of expression and assembly” and “step up reform efforts in all areas of the judicial system.”
Rasul went on to coordinate two other highly successful advocacy campaigns, focusing on enhancing internet freedom in Azerbaijan and on creating joint efforts among artists and democracy activists. Rasul continues to work courageously for freedom in his country as the chief executive officer and chairman of the Human Rights Club in Azerbaijan. The country’s democratization will be a difficult process, but it will find its success through the efforts of a small and dedicated group of activists like Rasul.
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