Saturday, March 23, 2013

A SPECTRE is haunting the Philharmonic — the spectre of Facebook

Photo from Facebook
The news came first as a joke and then as a shock. 

The enlightened despot-director of the Azerbaijan State Philharmonic, a scion of a well-known Azerbaijani musical dynasty, the husband of Aysel Teymurzade, Azerbaijan’s Eurovision 2009 contestant and finally, a celebrated pianist Murad Adigozalzadeh punished several Philharmonic employees for their critical comments on Facebook.

Indeed. Yes, indeed.

The website that broke the news first is suspiciously down while I’m writing this post, but photos of Adigozelzade’s official decree were posted on the Internet yesterday and it’s an utmost shame, let me tell you.

According to the decree, some members of the State Choir posted critical remarks on their Facebook profiles about “the opening ceremony of the III International Mugam Festival dedicated to the 90th Anniversary of national leader Heydar Aliyev” instead of “disseminating the news of a high class opening ceremony on the social networks.”

As these actions are “contrary to the nature of culture workers and not accepted by the staff of the Philharmonic”, the director decrees to give “serious warning” to the manager of the Choir and its art director, as well as “last warning” and “grave reprimand” to five artists – which means the next step will be firing them from their jobs.

Moreover, the Director instructs the managers of all “creative collectives” of the Philharmonic to watch out for similar incidents and prevent leakage of opinion and talks onto the social networks that might be critical of “the Republic”.

Well, I just wanted to point out that the decree of the Director had already been leaked :)

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Human rights defender denied entry into Azerbaijan

Rebecca Vincent, a British-American human rights advocate and former coordinator for the International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan has been denied a visa to Azerbaijan, where her family was based. She was told by the government to shut up and stop advocating human rights issues related to Azerbaijan. 

Below is her appeal to friends and colleagues taken from her Facebook page:

Dear friends,

Many of you are aware that I am no longer living in Baku. This is because I am no longer welcome in Azerbaijan. I have essentially been kicked out of the country in connection with my human rights work, in particular my work with the new Art for Democracy campaign, which we launched in December right before this happened.

While the fact that I was targeted is not entirely surprising, the timing and the way the authorities did it caught me off-guard. A few days after I left the country to travel to the UK for Christmas, I was notified that my immigration clearance had been pulled. Not my son’s, not my husband’s, just mine – with no explanation given. This has meant that my now 20 month-old son and I have not been able to return to our home for nearly three months, and that our family has been separated since my husband returned to Baku for work two months ago.

In the interest of returning to Azerbaijan as soon as possible, I remained quiet as the US Embassy tried to reach a solution with the Azerbaijani authorities. I was eventually offered a deal – that I could return to the country if I stopped my activism. I reluctantly agreed, believing it was best to reunite my family and thinking I could find quiet ways of helping from within the country. But the deal later fell through due to an apparent difference of opinion among senior government officials. It seems that some did not believe I would really stop my activism and were concerned that I would still be involved behind the scenes, still meet up with my friends, etc. – which of course I would. Those were not the terms of our agreement and I would not be able to live under those conditions.

I don’t want to focus too much on my own case as in many regards I have gotten off lightly. Human rights work in an authoritarian country certainly carries some risks, and this is the first time in nearly seven years of working on human rights issues in Azerbaijan that I have been directly targeted. I am very lucky to not be in jail or have been attacked – a fate that many of my local friends and colleagues have experienced. But I am now going public to try to get more international attention to the dire human rights situation in the country – which has gotten markedly worse over the past three months. I will also be initiating legal action in the hopes of eventually getting justice at the European Court of Human Rights, and shedding light on the many other cases of violations of freedom of movement and right to respect for family and private life in Azerbaijan.

The hardest part for me has been the overwhelming feeling that everything is unfinished – my life in Baku, my work, and most of all, my friendships. The reason I continue to dedicate so much of my life to fighting for the protection of human rights and democratic development in Azerbaijan is because of the many amazing people who are struggling in circumstances much more difficult than my own to fight for their rights and make their voices heard. I am lucky to count so many of you as my friends and I will always cherish the time we were able to work together side-by-side in the country. You have touched my life more than you will ever know.

But I am confident that I will return one day to a freer Azerbaijan. I can already feel things beginning to change, as people are growing fed up of corruption and oppression. I think the authorities can feel it too, which is the reason for the particularly vicious ongoing crackdown. In the meantime, I will continue to help fight for that freedom in any way I can from abroad.

Yours always,