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June 9, 2015 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Baku games sponsors urged to request release of journalists


In the following open letter, Reporters Without Borders urges the sponsors of the European Games in Baku to not 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.
Читать по-русски / Read in Russian Dear Sponsors of the Baku European Games, Dear Executives of McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Motorola and other international companies, Within a few days you will be in the spotlight as official sponsors and partners of the first-ever European Olympic Games, in Baku, Azerbaijan. Six thousands athletes will participate in this event, while 1,500 local and foreign journalists are expected to cover it. More than 225 million European homes will be able to watch the event live and you will unquestionably benefit from the media (over-)exposure. 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? It is not hard to find out about them. Reporters Without Borders, an international NGO that defends freedom of information, can give you all the details you want. Did you know, for example, that independent journalism is a high-risk sport in Azerbaijan? On the eve of the opening ceremony, President Ilham Aliyev’s regime is holding 12 journalists and bloggers on such ridiculous charges as drug trafficking, hooliganism or spying for a foreign country. The authorities do not hesitate to use the most disgraceful and disturbing methods to hound those who speak out. The well-known investigative journalist and human rights activist Khadija Ismayilova has paid a very high price. A sex tape was used in a bid to blackmail her when she exposed high-level government corruption. But they failed to deter this winner of many international journalism awards, who pressed on with her reporting regardless. So the authorities finally arrested her on 5 December on the trumped-up charge of inciting a colleague to attempt suicide. She has been in pre-trial detention ever since, with four new charges pending against her. The regime has been waging a campaign of terror for months, systematically suppressing its few remaining critics. Independent journalists and bloggers have almost all been silenced, either by being jailed or driven into exile. The last opposition daily, Azadlig, is collapsing under the impact of astronomical damages awards and political persecution. The government controls the entire broadcast sector. A dictatorship located at the very heart of the European continent, Azerbaijan is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, only just ahead of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. To this chilling description you will respond that you cannot act as substitutes for governments and international bodies, which are the ones that should be putting pressure on the regime to democratize and stop violating freedom of information. But you cannot get off the hook so easily. The United Nations have clearly said that the duty to respect human rights requires that business enterprises “seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts (...) even if they have not contributed to those impacts.” With the spirit of the Olympic movement’s founders hanging over us, with the courage of our athletes about to be hailed by the entire world, there are grounds for arguing that this courage should be shared and that, regardless of your financial interests, you should take advantage of your visibility from 12 June onwards to publicly demand the release of the 12 journalists and other news providers languishing in prison. Some of you – FIFA sponsors McDonald’s and Coca-Cola – hailed the FIFA president’s recent resignation as a significant “first step” towards restoring confidence, demonstrating your concern about ethics, transparency and integrity. But it’s not a “first step” it you don’t go any further. List of international sponsors: - British Petroleum - Coca Cola - McDonald’s - Motorola - Nestlé - Procter & Gamble - Sitecore - Tissot - Tickethour