Twitter users hijack #HelloBaku to shine spotlight on Azerbaijan's human rights abuses

The hashtag was launched by organisers of this summer's inaugural European Games in the country's capital Baku

10 Apr 2015
From top left: Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, Leyla Yunus, Khadija Ismayilova, Intigam Aliyev and

From top left: Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, Leyla Yunus, Khadija Ismayilova, Intigam Aliyev and Anar Mammadli – some of the government critics jailed on trumped up charges in Azerbaijan

Social media users have hijacked the hashtag #HelloBaku to draw attention to human rights and free speech violations in Azerbaijan ahead of this summer’s inaugural European Games in the capital Baku.

Baku 2015 organisers launched the hashtag contest on 4 March 2015, as part of a promotional push ahead of the games, which start on 12 June. Social media users were invited to enter by posting a photo or video of themselves holding a sign with #HelloBaku written on it. The winner, set to be announced this week, will be awarded two tickets to the opening ceremony, as well as a night at a luxury hotel and flights.

But the campaign backfired, as a number of social media users instead used #HelloBaku to highlight Azerbaijan’s poor record on human rights. According to the latest estimates, there are over 100 political prisoners in the country. Since last summer, authorities have been engaged in an unprecedented onslaught against its most prominent critics, jailing investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, pro-democracy activist Rasul Jafarov, human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev and others on trumped up charges. On 9 April, prosecutors asked for a 9-year sentence for Jafarov, who stands accused of tax evasion and malpractice, among other things.

On 30 March, the same day the contest closed, Human Rights Watch researcher Giorgi Gogia, who was set to attend the trial hearing of Aliyev and Jafarov, was blocked from entering Azerbaijan. Traveling from his native Georgia, Gogia does not require a visa to go to Azerbaijan. Despite this, his passport was taken away and he was held at the Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku for 31 hours without explanation, before being sent back to Tbilisi.

Azerbaijan’s authorities, led by President Ilham Aliyvev, have been accused by human rights groups of running an expensive international PR operation to whitewash rights violations, and present the country as a “modern, outward looking state“. According to the Baku European Games Operation Committee (BEGOC), the games will “showcase Azerbaijan as a vibrant and modern European nation of great achievement”.

London-based marketing firm 1000heads, whose clients include Yahoo, Procter & Gamble and Lego, worked with Baku 2015 organisers on #HelloBaku. Index contacted 1000heads to ask whether they were aware of criticisms against Azerbaijan’s human rights record before taking on the job, and their response to the hijacking of the hashtag.

“We were working with BEGOC, the Baku European Games Operation Committee, which is responsible for delivering the event for athletes from the 49 National Olympic Committees of Europe. We are no longer involved,” 1000heads CEO Mike Rowe said in an email.

This article was posted on 8 April 2015 at

11 responses to “Twitter users hijack #HelloBaku to shine spotlight on Azerbaijan’s human rights abuses”

  1. Taleh says:

    I am completely against of mixing-up sport and politics or other non-relevant issues. Azerbaijan really deserves to host this competition and I think it would better for all to focuse on exactly European Games.

  2. NadirHesimli says:

    Is cooperation with #Armenian special services included to activities of NGO?! Leyla & Arif Yunus did so. “Blackmail” of Azerbaijan will not work. Azerbaijan remains reliable and strong partner of Europe. After terror act in Baku subway in 1992,14 citizens shot dead. Leyla Yunus got much money from parents of killers. 
    Leyla Yunus is included those killers into list of political prisoners. Do you defend her so far?

  3. TurkelIbrahimkhalilov says:

    Tax evasion considered serious crime in #Azerbaijan. Are you kidding to support this @amnesty?! @hrw

  4. Rahila says:

    Unfortunately, some people who are among us, do not feel proud from the fact that the first European Games will be held in Azerbaijan. They do not understand that these Games are an historic opportunity for the country. During the games, the world’s attention will be on Azerbaijan. Tens of thousands of people, with tourists, journalists, business people, will arrive in the country.

  5. Rahila says:

    Every Azeri is proud of hosting European Games.

  6. Rahila says:

    Azerbaijan has joined the European legal space, and is under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, which any citizen of the Republic of Azerbaijan dissatisfied with the decision of court can apply to.

  7. Gulay says:

    Ask these people why they make those guys unhappy? Why did not they teach them to study, care about the environment, visit libraries but call on them to attack the law enforcement officers, arrange protests, cause damage to citizens’ property? It has repeatedly been proven that there is no one who could be attributed to the term of “political prisoner” in Azerbaijan. There are specific cases of violations of the laws on which court trials are held. They should not cast a shadow over the court decision in cases in which decisions have not even been made yet.

  8. Gulay says:

    We have no political prisoners. Moreover, Azerbaijan has joined the European Convention for Human Rights, is a member of the European Court on Human Rights and it’s possible to raise such a question in this court. We respect the decisions of this court.

  9. Gulay says:

    There are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan #HelloBaku

  10. Gulay says:

    Azerbaijan is recognized in the world and in Europe as a sports nation today. Our successes are measured by the number of medals won in international competitions and complemented by the sports infrastructure created in Azerbaijan and in Baku. If we add to this the world and European championships conducted in Azerbaijan and in Baku we will see that sport is indeed developing very successfully in Azerbaijan.

  11. Gulay says:

    First European Olympic Games that it will take place in Baku is a great, historic event, and, at the same time, outstanding success of our country.