BAKU May 25 Swedish Eurovision Song Contest
favourite Loreen strayed off script into a human rights row in
Azerbaijan this week that has drowned out an annual European
music show best known until now for its camp costumes and
Loreen met with activists who accuse the government of
Eurovision host Azerbaijan of human rights violations, some of
which are related to the building of the arena where the song
contest final will be held on Saturday night.
"Human rights are violated in Azerbaijan every day. One
should not be silent about such things," Azeri opposition
newspaper Azadliq quoted Loreen as saying after her meeting.
Millions of people across Europe will watch the contest on
television and thousands of Eurovision fans are expected to pour
into Baku, heading straight for the new 23,000-seat Crystal Hall
where the show will be broadcast from.
Loreen, whose emotional performances on stage have made her
a frontrunner among the 26 contestants, met with the Institute
for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS), Human Rights
Defenders, the organisation of Sweden and the House of Human
Rights, according to Azeri news agency APA and Azadliq.
Hundreds of excited fans have already arrived in the
oil-rich Azeri capital, which has undergone a $60 million
facelift with the shiny rectangular Crystal Hall on the shores
of the Caspian Sea at the centre of the celebrations.
The multi-purpose Crystal Hall was built by a German firm in
eight months for an undisclosed sum of money.
But human rights groups say some buildings in the centre of
Baku were specifically torn down with the song contest in mind
and that the forced eviction of residents, especially in areas
around the Crystal Hall, casts a shadow over the event.
Azeri authorities responded by criticising Loreen for making
"Unfortunately there are some attempts of politicisation.
The musical event can not be politicised," said Ali Hasanov,
head of the public and political issues department at the
Loreen evaded questions about her meeting with activists at
a press conference after the contest semi-final on Friday.
"There are two parts of me. One that is private and one that
is my work that I'm doing here. Just today I want to keep the
focus on this energy that we created right now," she said in
response to a question from Reuters.
Despite the effort to highlight progress that the
oil-producing nation of nine million people has made since
independence in 1991, critics of President Ilham Aliyev's
government have taken the Eurovision opportunity to air
allegations of human rights abuses.
Critics accuse Aliyev, who in 2003 succeeded his father to
the presidency of the Caspian Sea country north of Iran, of
clamping down on dissent, but Baku says the country enjoys full
freedom of speech and a vibrant opposition press.
Dozens of peaceful protesters were arrested this month in
central Baku during rallies and marches demanding democracy and
the resignation of the government.
"A stern crackdown of freedom of expression, dissent, NGOs,
critical journalists, in fact anyone who criticises the Aliyev
regime too strongly, and we've seen this continue right up until
the Eurovision Song Contest," Amnesty International Europe and
Central Asia director John Dalhuisen told Reuters.
Azerbaijan won the right to host the annual contest last
year in Germany with the victory of its entry, the love song
"Running Scared", from Eldar Gasimov and Nigar Jamal, better
known as Ell/Nikki.