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European Games at Azerbaijan plagued by human rights issues

The capital, Baku, is hosting the first European Games this year. Hashtags meant to celebrate the event have been taken over by human rights activists.

A sculpture to commemmorate the first European Games, at Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan

 The inaugural edition of the European Games kicked off at Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan this past Friday, the 12th of June, and has already been eventful for all the wrong reasons. A day before the event, three Austrian synchronised swimmers suffered major injuries whilst taking a walk in the athletes’ sporting village after a bus collided with them. Two were described as being ‘very seriously injured’, and were flown back to the Austrian capital, Vienna, accompanied by the team's doctor.

Prior to the games, The Guardian, one of the UK’s leading newspapers, reported that its journalists had been banned from covering the Games, and subsequently barred entry from the country altogether. They were not the only ones, however, with several other media outlets and human rights disallowed from covering events entirely.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has stated on several occasions that its activists have been blocked from visiting the country, and the government officially described activists as “not welcome at the present time.”

The country’s government has jailed several officials and journalists on charges that have not been entirely substantiated, charges their lawyers say are politically motivated. The currently ruling party has been in dynastic rule for the last decade, and has been met with criticism from human rights organisations worldwide. 

The EOC, the European Olympic Committee, declined to comment, saying in a statement: "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 organisations, we must operate within existing political contexts."

Social media hashtags, most popularly #Baku2015, that were created for the event with the purpose of celebrating the event have been taken over by users and human rights campaigners, who are using them to highlight human rights issues within the country.

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