A daughter of jailed Azerbaijani dissidents, Dinara Yunus, is among the growing choir of Azerbaijan’s critics who are using the upcoming “European Olympics” to draw attention to reported repressions in the Caspian-Sea country.
“My parents dedicated 30 years of their lives to human rights. Now they are in different cells in different prisons because they dared to speak out,” Yunus says in a recent YouTube video. Released by the UK human rights group Amnesty International, the video mixes her monologue with footage of the large-scale preparations in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, for the European Games this June.
“Mr. President [Ilham Aliyev], can you tell me why my mother is in prison after she was critical of the upcoming European games?” Yunus asks in the tape.
Dinara’s mother, prominent human-rights activist Leyla Yunus, is controversially jailed on charges that include tax evasion and spying for the enemy state of Armenia. International democracy-watchdogs scoff at these charges, and those against her husband Arif Yunus and many other activists, as politically motivated.
Charging that Azerbaijan now has as much freedom of speech as can fit inside a prison cell, international human rights groups and emigrant Azerbaijani activists are banking on the June 12-28 European Games to put an international spotlight on what they describe as the government’s authoritarian excesses.
They’re also stepping up the prominence of their targets — on March 17, several rights-organizations sent an appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Council for Azerbaijan to stop “the systematic punishment of leaders of civil society, and to immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders, journalists and activists” in prison and drop the charges against them.
In response to this and other criticism, President Ilham Aliyev, who, as head of the national Olympics Committee, takes a lively interest in the Games, claimed recently that “certain foreign circles” are busy trying, once again, to smear Azerbaijan.
Memories of the tongue-lashing his government received in 2012 when Baku hosted Eurovision apparently linger on.
“This campaign has never stopped; only on the eve of international events it takes particularly ugly forms. We faced the same thing three years ago, in 2012, on the eve of Eurovision,” Aliyev said during a public event last week in Baku. He called out international NGOs (Transparency International, in particular) for allegedly failing to react to abuses on their own turf, while picking on Azerbaijan.
“In other places, people are being strangled, shot, killed and nobody is held accountable. Where are these non-governmental organizations that are accusing us? . . . Why are international institutions not passing resolutions?” Aliyev asked rhetorically. His answer? “[T]oday world politics is guided not by international law, but hypocrisy, double standards, discrimination, racism, islamophobia and xenophobia.”
The president, though, can take a deep breath. So far, as with Eurovision, the international criticism has brought no heavy cost to Baku. Other than to its nerves, that is.