#IndexAwards 2018: Jamal Ali’s music fights oppression in Azerbaijan

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/tNKQ_C9VxKY”][vc_column_text]Jamal Ali is a young Azerbaijani rapper living in exile in Berlin who – with one song – challenged the authoritarian regime of President Ilham Aliyev this year. His contribution is significant because he is one of the few musicians from the former Soviet Bloc channelling social protest through his music, and getting a reaction back home.

The song in question, was released by Ali on New Year’s Eve 2016. It criticised human rights violations in Azerbaijan, particularly the torture and 10-year prison sentence meted out to two young men who desecrated the statue of the president’s father. The song was called Heykəl Baba (Monument Grandpa). Azerbaijan’s authorities arrested Ali’s mother and threatened his relatives who were still living in Azerbaijan. They said they would not release Ali’s mother until he took down the song from YouTube.  

It was the first time I saw so many people having courage to start and proceed such a campaign. It was a huge support and amazing feeling to know, that so many people understand how is it to lead a fight alone. Because my mother was involved, there was a huge emotional side of the story too. It became our fight together, there was a big feeling of unity, which we miss very much in our country” Ali said.

They also threatened to fire 40 of his relatives from their jobs and impose a travel ban on them. The way the government reacted sent the music video viral on social media sites and Ali’s only compromise was to change the YouTube settings to private for three weeks.  In 2017, Heykəl Baba had almost 152,000 views. Later in May of the same year, the authorities tried to intimidate Ali further. His brother, was arrested at the airport when trying to fly back to Prague and forced to denounce Ali. 

This blackmail so outraged the online community both inside and outside Azerbaijan that they shared and re-shared the video, which went viral. It was as much the government’s attempt to suppress free speech with such crude methods as the content which outraged them and united them in anger. By provoking such a harsh response from the government, Ali with one action highlighted the repressive nature of the regime, its ruthlessness in attacking the families of exiles and its lack of tolerance for dissent and free speech.

Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship 2018

Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship 2018.

Ali left Azerbaijan in 2012 after being beaten in police detention for taking part in youth protests several months before the Eurovision Song Contest was held in the capital Baku. But he continued his challenge to the regime by releasing a video called Vermişel which he put out just before the Eurovision song contest. Ali’s protest song, covered by the UK’s Panorama programme among other international media, marred the government’s attempts at using the contest for positive publicity for the country, which lead to his nomination for the Index Awards in 2018.

After receiving word of the shortlist Ali said, “I was very glad to hear about my nomination. It’s motivating to know that what we do is important and appreciated. I’m working on new songs and trying to create a broader impact and to give a new hope to the people. The nomination is another chance for me to open my favorite topic and remind the international audience about our fight for freedom.”

See the full shortlist for Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Awards 2018 here.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”stretch_row_content” equal_height=”yes” el_class=”text_white” css=”.vc_custom_1490259018105{background-color: #cb3000 !important;}”][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_custom_heading text=”Support the Index Fellowship” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:28|text_align:center” use_theme_fonts=”yes” link=”url:https%3A%2F%2Fwww.indexoncensorship.org%2Fsupport-the-freedom-of-expression-awards%2F|||”][vc_column_text]

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Azerbaijan: Regime targets musician through his family

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Azerbaijani rapper Jamal Ali’s family were summoned to questioning by the Baku State police. They have since been released.

“My mother and some other relatives are in Baku state police department now,” Ali wrote in a Facebook post on Friday 6 January.

The rapper has been under pressure to delete Heykəl Baba (Grandfather Monument), which is a song critical of the government.

Arresting family members or threatening them with arrest is a tactic Azerbaijani authorities have been using to intimidate those who dare speaking out and criticise the regime. Index strongly condemns this action and demands that the government of Ilham Aliyev respect freedom of expression,” Melody Patry, head of advocacy at Index on Censorship, said.

In November, Ali, who lives in exile, spoke about the situation in Azerbaijan at the Oslo concert of Norwegian musician Moddi. He told the crowd that “When people decide to speak out in my country they can end up in jail.”

After severe pressure on his family members, Ali reluctantly removed the video from public view on his YouTube channel. However the video is still available on other channels.

This article was updated on 10 January 2017.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”page” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1484045239650-6e28d39e-abce-2″ taxonomies=”7145″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Azerbaijan: “Tortured” singer flees country

A 24-year-old Azerbaijani musician who says he was tortured by police after he insulted the country’s president during a concert has fled to Germany over concerns for his safety. Jamal Ali had criticised President Ilham Aliyev and his late mother during the concert in Baku in March, and was charged with hooliganism after an argument with the concert’s organisers. He and two other musicians were sentenced to 10 days’ detention, during which time Ali claims he was tortured. His escape comes just days before the Eurovision song contest, due to be held in the former Soviet country on 26 May.

Azerbaijan: Musicians tortured

Two Azerbaijani musicians who insulted the country’s president during a concert in Baku are said to have been tortured by police while in detention. Jamal Ali of the band Bulustan criticised President Ilham Aliyev and his late mother during a concert at an opposition rally on Saturday. After an argument with concert organisers, he was dragged away by police with bandmate Natiq Kamilov and a third man. A court charged all three with hooliganism and sentenced them to 10 days’ detention. During the hearing the two musicians said they had been beaten by police and were refused contact with their families or lawyers.