Since Azerbaijan won the Eurovision Song Contest in May, and with victory the right to host the 2012 event, there have been concerns expressed in the media and on fan sites about the country’s attitude to the LGBT community and potential abuse of human rights.
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has now confirmed that the contest will take place in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku in May 2012, although a venue is still to be finalised.
The EBU has insisted on a commitment from the Azerbaijani authorities that guarantees security during the event, as well as freedom of expression according to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and in line with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, to all participants, fans, accredited journalists and individual citizens, of any country, who access official Eurovision Song Contest premises.
While these assurances were thought to be mainly aimed at the ongoing tensions with neighbouring Armenia, the number of gay fans the competition attracts is also thought to be behind the guarantees.
Activists recently spoke to the BBC about their concern at the lack of protection for the LGBT community in Azerbaijan.
“Homosexuality here is seen as worse than prostitution. If a family decided to kill a gay relative, most people would approve. I have heard of many suicides of suspected homosexuals,” Azeri human rights activist Yadigyar Sadykov said.
“During Eurovision, no one will bother gay foreigners in Baku. People here don’t mind, as long as it’s not in their family,” author Alekper Aliyev, whose book about a gay relationship between an Azeri and a man from Armenia was removed from a big bookstore in Baku by police, said.
A senior official from the Azeri presidential administration, Elnur Aslanov, told the BBC that negative comments were from expatriates issuing “ill-informed speculation” about the treatment of LGBTs in Azerbaijan.
“We consider all this nothing more than an unsuccessful attempt by those naysayers to gain a better reputation in their respective countries in the light of the upcoming Eurovision song contest in Azerbaijan,” she said.
Homosexual acts were decriminalised in 2001 but Azerbaijan has consistently voted against LGBT human rights at the United Nations.
“State influence over broadcast media stifles diversity,” press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders claimed. Some fans will certainly be deterred from visiting Baku but the commitment of the Eurovision faithful is sure to see the largest gathering of out-and-proud LGBT people ever in Baku. Many are hoping that, as a result, Eurovision could bring about change in the country and greater acceptance of the LGBT community.
BY COLIN HYDE