European Games: Amnesty says it is banned by Azerbaijan
Amnesty International said on Wednesday the Azerbaijan government had barred it from visiting the capital Baku, where the group planned to protest human rights violations ahead of the European Games.
The energy-rich country has pumped vast resources into hosting the first edition of Europe's answer to the Olympic Games from June 12-28, building state-of-the-art facilities in a bid to burnish its image.
In a statement, Amnesty said it was forced to cancel a planned visit starting Wednesday after the government told the group that delegates would not be welcome until after the games.
The group intended to launch a briefing called "Azerbaijan: the Repression Games. The voices you won't hear at the first European Games" to highlight a crackdown on journalists, opposition members and activists ahead of the sport event.
"It is deeply ironic that the launch of a briefing outlining how critical voices in the country have been systematically silenced ahead of the European Games cannot be held," said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty's Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.
"Far from advancing the goals of press freedom and human dignity enshrined in the Olympic Charter, the legacy of these games will be to further encourage repressive authorities around the world to view major international sporting events as a ticket to international prestige and respectability."
It came as British group Platform said in a statement that one of their activists Emma Hughes, who had been travelling to support political prisoners, had been detained on arrival in Azerbaijan and told she was on a "red list" of people who cannot enter the country.
- 'Dismantling civil society' -
Amnesty accuses the Azerbaijan government of a "systematic dismantling of civil society" ahead of the games, through the harassment, jailing and torture of human rights activists and pro-democracy campaigners.
Government critics have been imprisoned ahead of the games, as well as prominent investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova in a bid to silence criticism, according to the rights group.
Others detained are activist Leyla Yunus who, along with her husband, was arrested in July after calling for a boycott of the games due to the government's human rights record. The 60-year-old has been detained since, according to Amnesty.
Amnesty has also called for the release of Rasul Jafarov, founder of "Human Rights Club", who was arrested as he planned a campaign to highlight human rights abuses in the country and sentenced to 6.5 years in prison on what the rights groups describes as "trumped-up charges".
President Ilham Aliyev, who has ruled the former Soviet state since the death of his father in 2003, strongly denies accusations of rights abuses and his administration has dismissed criticism as a smear campaign.
Azerbaijan sees the games as an opportunity to build its profile and has set aside $1.2 billion for infrastructure, and travel and accommodation expenses for some 6,000 sportspeople and their delegations from across Europe, according to official figures.
Amnesty International urged governments and the European Olympic Committee to pressure the Azerbaijan government to release prisoners of conscience and respect freedom of expression, association and assembly.
© 2015 AFP