Despite its long track record of human rights abuses there was barely a hint of condemnation during this weekend’s Eurovision final in Azerbaijan.
Only one presenter dared to deviate from the script and speak out in support of those who risk prison to campaign for greater democratic rights in the former Soviet republic.
Anke Engelke, a German comedian charged with delivering the voting results via video link in Hamburg, took the time to make a subtle criticism of Azerbaijan’s democratic credentials.
After thanking her hosts in Baku she said: “Tonight nobody could vote for their own country but it is good to be able to vote and it is good to have a choice. Good luck on your journey Azerbaijan, Europe is watching you.”
Her remarks were a thinly veiled attack on the country’s political system. Azerbaijan has not held a single competitive election since Heydar Aliyev, the father of current president Ilham Aliyev, came to power in 1993, following a coup against the first elected president.
Opposition groups in Azerbaijan had hoped that the Eurovision contest would force its leaders into granting greater democracy and reforms after Arab Spring style protests were swiftly put down last year. Instead the competition led to further crackdowns with attacks and arrests on opposition supporters, journalists and government critics.
Foreign media were guaranteed uncensored reporting rights for the duration of the competition – a luxury that is not afforded to indigenous media. However reports emerged last night that Amir Asgharnejad, a prominent Norwegian comedian, was interrogated and strip searched when he tried to fly back from Baku airport.
The comedian said police were offended by the video footage his team had captured.