Baku Games starting today with avalanche of human rights criticism

June 12, 2015

It is encouraging to see the range of human rights actors that have taken to using the Baku Games, starting today, as an occasion to draw attention to the human rights record of Azerbaijan. One of the more creative is the FIDH‘s launch of “REAL BAKU 2015,” an online video game, to denounce the arbitrary imprisonment of dozens of human rights defenders:

REAL BAKU 2015 is an online, retro minigame. Available in English, French and Russian, it allows users to compete in different events that will be included in the real European Games competition. The catch is that in REAL BAKU 2015, the gamer’s avatar is not an athlete, but rather an Azerbaijani political prisoner, lawyer or . The player ‘competes’ in a bare, cramped prison cell. Players can choose to participate in five athletic events: the 100 meter prison cell dash, competitive shadowboxing, the mattress high jump, the distance swim in a sink, and the paper ball shot put. Go to: After playing, users are invited to share their score on social networks so as to challenge friends and followers and support the cause of human rights. The game was conceived by the French communications firm BABEL; design by Pippin Barr, a Cypriot game developer specializing in 8-bit games and illustrations designed by Mark Borgions.

Reporters Without Borders [RSF] sent an open letter to the sponsors of the European Games in Baku urging them not to turn a blind eye to violations of freedom of information for the sake of their economic interests and to formally request the release of the 12 journalists and bloggers detained in Azerbaijan: “.. you will be in the spotlight as official sponsors and partners of the first-ever European Olympic Games, in Baku, Azerbaijan. <…>But should you let your economic interests blind you to the issue of human rights? Should you ignore the violations of fundamental freedoms that the host country has been committing with impunity for years?”.

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) calls on the international community to organize a Twitter campaign in defiance of the arrested journalists in Azerbaijan during the European Games and urge the government of that country to free the incarcerated journalists. “With about 1,300 international journalists due to cover the Games in Baku from June 12 to 28, the press has a unique opportunity to scrutinize this censored and restricted country,” CPJ says.

On Thursday the Guardian newspaper said its chief sports correspondent, Owen Gibson, was not given an accreditation that also acts as a visa to enter the country after the paper`s coverage of Games preparations in Baku back in December. Amnesty also said two days ago several of its members, travelling to Baku to present what would be a damning report on the government`s human rights record, were barred from entering.

Human Rights Watch, said that “government repression is making the European Games historic for all the wrong reasons.” In recent weeks Azerbaijani authorities denied or failed to provide required press accreditation and visas to at least three foreign journalists with European media outlets. “By denying visas to reporters covering the games, Azerbaijan and President Aliyev are rejecting one of the basic rules for hosting the event. The EOC and International Olympic Committee should demand a full explanation and reversal of these actions.

The website of the Dutch Member of the European Parliament Marietje Schaake, calls on European leaders not to attend official ceremonies during the European Games in Azerbaijan, until political prisoners are released: “The authorities in Azerbaijan are interested in hosting major international events, in order to increase the international stature of Azerbaijan. Yet the European Games should not mask the fact that fundamental rights are systematically being violated. Activists such as Leyla Yunus, who was nominated for the Sakharov Prize of the European Parliament last year, are in prison without medical care or access to a lawyer,” she states. “This is unacceptable. The label ‘European’ should have meaning, and the Games should only be organised in countries where human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected.”

In the meantime the Azerbaijani Government has simply rejected claims it had cracked down on human rights activists and political opponents ahead of the European Games, saying there were no political prisoners in its jails. “Some European organisations are running a campaign that claims there are political prisoners in Azerbaijan, that there is no independent press, but this is all groundless.

European Olympic Committee President Patrick Hickey, whose organisation awarded the Games to Baku, said “There’s one thing we cannot do and that is to dictate to a sovereign state how to run its affairs.” Maybe, but nothing dictates to have the Games there!

For my earlier posts on this topic:

A good overview of what has recently happened can be found in:

[VIDEO GAME] REAL BAKU 2015: Play and support human rights in (…).

3 Responses to “Baku Games starting today with avalanche of human rights criticism”

  1. […] an injury of Nadal.]. Azerbaijan in 2015 tried to make good use of sporting events (see e.g.…; […]

  2. […] hosted the first European Games in Baku in 2015. [see:…It is apparent that the past experience of 2015 had little effect on the EOC, and that the […]

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