Using art to campaign for democracy in Azerbaijan
10 Dec 2012

In Azerbaijan, it is not only journalists who face intimidation, arrests and violence: artists, musicians and writers also come under attack for exercising their right to artistic freedom. To coincide with the UN’s International Human Rights Day, Art for Democracy, a new initiative to support artistic freedom, was launched in Baku.

“Art for Democracy seeks to use all forms of artistic freedom of expression to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Azerbaijan, including to improve the climate for artistic freedom of expression itself”, said Art for Democracy‘s coordinator Rasul Jafarov. “It will also give artists a platform to come together and use their talents to promote democratic change”.

In May, Azerbaijani musician Jamal Ali fled the country in fear of his life after he reported that police tortured him in detention. The rapper had criticised President Ilham Aliyev during a concert. Musician and activist Azer Cirttan is also in exile.

It’s clear that, in addition to more traditional campaigns, including political engagement at the Council of Europe and organised demonstrations in Azerbaijan and around the world, a creative approach to promoting free expression in Azerbaijan is also needed. The campaign will also offer direct support to marginalised artists, who are often persecuted for their work.

Art for Democracy builds on the work of Sing for Democracy, which drew attention to the poor health of free expression in Azerbaijan in the run up to the Eurovision Song Contest, hosted in Baku in May. To celebrate the launch, free speech advocates, including Eurovision 2012 winner, Swedish pop star Loreen, recorded video messages of support.

Azerbaijan hosted the Internet Governance Forum, in November. In an open letter to President Aliyev prominent activist and journalist Emin Milli  lamented the fact that citizens are “do not dare to speak out” against the dictator’s policies, “online or offline”. “You have successfully managed to silence them,” he added.

In this climate, Art for Democracy is an important, fresh voice that will draw together  the country’s most important free expression experts, ensuring that a wider audience is informed about the very serious free expression crisis in Azerbaijan today.

Read Index’s fact file on Azerbaijan, Access Denied

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