One week before the opening ceremony of the first European Games in the history of the continent, FIDH calls on the European leaders to make the participation of their countries in the opening ceremony of the Games contingent upon the release of political prisoners and activists placed in pre-trial detention on trumped-up charges.
“In the current context, the participation of European government representatives in the opening ceremony will be an affront to all activists detained in Azerbaijan and to the universal values they defend while risking their freedom and safety,” declared Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.
FIDH denounces the unprecedented crackdown on Azerbaijani civil society perpetrated by the authorities. The organisation recalls that most of the leaders of independent NGOs have been arrested in the past year, ahead of the Baku Games. Their lawyers are harassed and imprisoned with the aim of denying activists their right to legal defence. The government has put in place new policies severely restricting citizens’ rights. In particular, it has passed legislation that renders the lawful registration and functioning of independent organisations virtually impossible. Bank accounts of independent NGOs have been frozen and foreign funding declared unlawful unless sanctioned by the government. Given the regime’s intent to use the European Games to improve the country’s image, the Games may well exacerbate the deteriorating human rights situation in the country. As the host of this large international event, the regime has become more intolerant of criticism than ever before.
The legislative obstacles that the Azerbaijani authorities have put in place in order to outlaw any independent civil society activity, in addition to the judicial harassment of activists and their lawyers and the detainment of all critical voices violate the word and spirit of the Olympic Charter. The Azerbaijani authorities have bestowed great importance on the upcoming European Games, as they are seen as a way to give the country a more prestigious image in the international arena. The Games therefore provide an ideal opportunity for European governments to bring about a positive change in the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. To this end, FIDH urges European governments to make their presence at the opening ceremony of the Games contingent upon the release of all detained civil society activists.