As F1 roars into Baku, activists tell drivers: help our fight for human rights

时间:2019-07-20 责任编辑:顾蔑龉 来源:北京pk10计划 点击:143 次

The asphalt has been laid over Baku’s ancient cobbled streets, many residential buildings have been covered with false fronts for the cameras, and bling-built new ones are on proud display. Well away from the limelight of this weekend’s 3.7-mile circuit through the city are Azerbaijan’s prisons – their populations swollen by activists, journalists, bloggers and opposition figures.

Human rights campaigners working to draw attention to the restrictive regime in the country have appealed to high-profile Formula One fans, celebrities and drivers at today’s inaugural Azerbaijan Grand Prix to criticise or draw attention to the regime’s human rights record. Formula One’s chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, British driver Lewis Hamilton and the three music stars scheduled to appear – Pharrell Williams, Chris Brown and Enrique Iglesias – have all come for not doing so, and the call has largely been ignored as drivers prepare for what will be one of the fastest street circuits in the world.

When asked about the criticism on Thursday, Ecclestone gave what campaigners described as a “jaw-dropping” : “The minute people tell me what human rights are, then you can have a look at them and see how and when and where it applies,” Ecclestone said. “Do any of you know what human rights are?” Asked if Formula One had a clear conscience, he replied: “Absolutely. 100%.” Asked about dozens of political prisoners jailed for criticising the ruling Aliyev family, Ecclestone said: “So they should. It depends what they say. You say they write negative things. It depends what they write.”

He also dismissed concerns over government corruption in Azerbaijan, leaks. “Can you tell me where we are going to be racing?” He said the US – “the greatest place in the world” – was a “bit of a shithole” compared with glitzy Azerbaijan.

Khadija Ismayilova, jailed for seven years last September, has long suffered harassment over her award-winning investigative reporting. In 2012 she was subjected to a blackmail plot involving hidden cameras and a sex tape of her and her boyfriend. After intensive international campaigning, she was . She said people would engage in “silent protest” during the Grand Prix. “The basic things are not available to ordinary people in this oil-rich Azerbaijan, like health and education. People will not protest loudly, but they are not excited by this race either. Most of them are deprived of an opportunity to see it, for a start.

“People are upset that historic streets have been ripped up – how do you restore history? When they built the new luxury hotel, they destroyed part of the city wall.

“When they were digging foundations, they found ancient tunnels and filled them with cement so it would not delay. All such places are owned by the first family, who can do as they please.

“Citizens complain about demolition of their houses, but they have nowhere to address problems. Civil society has been so weakened, the system torn down, independent media outlets shut down. Only a handful of independent journalists are left. Absolutely, I am staying. I’m not afraid of being sent back to prison.”

is only the latest organisation wooed by the elite. The European Games were held there last June, and in 2020 Baku will host four games in football’s European Championship.

Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded his father Heydar Aliyev, has been president since 2003. His wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, from one of the semi-feudal nation’s most powerful families, is expected to succeed him. She has been made a goodwill ambassador by Unesco, which declared old Baku a world heritage site. Azerbaijan has also been criticised for “caviar diplomacy” – bribing foreign officials to promote it. Last year the European parliament said Azerbaijan had “suffered the greatest decline in democratic governance in all of Eurasia over the past 10 years”. A 2015 Amnesty stated: “Azerbaijan has been allowed to get away with unprecedented levels of repression”.

of Sport for Rights said: “Azerbaijan has courted big international sports events to improve its image abroad; the grand prix is no different. But while all this wealth is on show, the situation for ordinary people is getting worse. We’re not calling for a boycott – that wouldn’t help the people – but attracting attention to their plight will.”