Pushing for press freedom at European Games
Azerbaijan, which ranks in fifth place on CPJ's list of 10 Most Censored Countries, hosted the first-ever European Games in its capital, Baku, this month. One of the country's most prominent journalists, Khadija Ismayilova, has been in jail there since December 2014 for reporting on sensitive issues, including corruption and human rights. Ismayilova, who features in CPJ's Press Uncuffed campaign, is one of eight journalists in prison during the Games. Using the attention focused on Azerbaijan in the run up to the Games, CPJ joined the Sports for Rights coalition to highlight human rights abuses and corruption to Baku 2015 sponsors, Olympic committees, and international institutions. The coalition even convinced Bono from Irish rock band U2 to speak out for freedom of expression on stage in Montreal.
Azerbaijan responded to these efforts by blocking international journalists from covering the event, which garnered attention from CPJ board member Christiane Amanpour as well as the host of satirical TV show "Last Week Tonight," John Oliver. But the campaign created the necessary pressure on Azerbaijan to allow leading media freedom defender Emin Huseynov to leave the country. Huseynov, who spent 10 months in hiding at the Swiss Embassy in Baku to avoid a politically motivated jail term, left Azerbaijan on a Swiss diplomatic plane the day the Games started.
On April 30, CPJ and Human Rights Watch met with the European Olympic Committees (EOC) leadership in Dublin to raise concerns about censorship and human rights issues. The meeting elicited a statement from the EOC that read: "It is not the EOC's place to challenge or pass judgment on the legal or political processes of a sovereign nation and, like all sports organizations, we must operate within existing political contexts." Although the EOC said it was "satisfied with the assurances" it received from Azerbaijani authorities that the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter would be upheld, CPJ is not satisfied. Ismayilova and other journalists remain imprisoned there for their work. If you agree, send the EOC a message telling them you are not satisfied.