Azerbaijan warms up for Eurovision by torturing musicians

Moscow

Fresh doubts have been raised about the suitability of Azerbaijan to host May's Eurovision Song Contest, as it emerged that two local musicians who insulted the country's president during a concert may have been tortured by police over recent days.

The problems began when Jamal Ali, 24-year-old frontman of the band Bulustan, criticised President Ilham Aliyev and his late mother during a concert at an opposition rally on Saturday in the capital, Baku. After an argument with the organisers, he was dragged away by police along with Natiq Kamilov, another band member, and a third man.

A court charged the three men with hooliganism and sentenced them to 10 days in detention. During the hearing the two men said they had been beaten by police, and were refused contact with their families or lawyers.

Amnesty International called on the Azerbaijani authorities to launch an independent investigation yesterday. "It's deeply ironic that only two months before Baku takes the world stage for Eurovision, Azerbaijani authorities are using force to break up and silence musicians performing at a peaceful protest on the city's streets," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty's Director for Europe and Central Asia.

Azerbaijan sees the song contest as an opportunity to showcase the economic growth of the country, and has poured millions into ensuring the event goes smoothly.

However, as the contest approaches, the arrest of the musicians is just the latest worrying sign of the heavy-handed way in which Mr Aliyev's autocratic regime deals with dissent.

Earlier this month, a sex video of an opposition journalist who claimed to have uncovered corruption in Mr Aliyev's family appeared online. She said she had been told to stop writing or the video would be put online. She went public with the threat and the video was released.

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