Foreign press about campaign Sing for Democrasy

Sam Williams 08/06/2019

“Standing on a peninsula that reaches out into Baku’s Caspian Sea bay, the sparkling new Crystal Hall is a symbol of Azerbaijan’s hopes and ambitions for next month’s Eurovision song contest,” AFP reports:

As well as building the ultra-modern venue at breakneck speed, the ex-Soviet state has hung out Eurovision flags across the capital as public anticipation grows ahead of an event watched by an estimated 125 million viewers. ….But campaigners hope that it will also draw international attention to alleged human rights violations in Azerbaijan, an oil-rich, mainly Muslim but officially secular state led by strongman President Ilham Aliyev.
Rights groups say that freedom of expression is being suppressed and dissenting voices silenced as the authorities seek to enforce stability in a country that went through war and political turmoil after the Soviet collapse. Local activists have set up a campaign called Sing for Democracy in an attempt to ensure that politics joins pop at centre stage in media coverage of the contest.
“Eurovision must be yet another tool to promote Azerbaijan’s European integration, first of all through the improvement of the situation with human rights,” said Rasul Jafarov (above) of Sing for Democracy.
The 28-year-old human rights activist came up with the idea of exploiting the contest to highlight the authoritarian regime’s rights record when Azerbaijani duo Ell & Nikki won last year’s Eurovision, giving the country hosting rights.
“We have asked the City Council of Baku if we can have an open-air concert” but it referred the request to the Ministry of Culture, he tells the Frankfurter Rundschau, a leading German newspaper. But they have a “plan B” if they’re denied permission.
“We can stay in a night club in town, owned by a foreigner and therefore does not need approval from the authorities.”
He is a firm believer that the involvement of each individual counts if you want to make a difference.
“I am originally from a non-political family, except my grandmother who has always heard Radio Liberty and BBC children and tells us what’s going on in the world.”
As a student, he began to get involved after a meeting of the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Baku where he got to know people who freely expressed their political views and criticized the government.
“That impressed me and influenced me greatly.”
Now he is a full-time activist, working with organizations such as Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, he says.
The “Sing for Democracy” campaign is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.