European Games kick off in Baku amid controversy

To great fanfare but amid major controversies, the European Games kicked off in Baku on Friday, June 12. The lavish ceremony featured US singer Lady Gaga, 68,000 spectators and Mugham singer Alim Gasanov. However, the festivities were overshadowed by a bus accident, which injured three Austrian athletes a day before the start of the Games. Two of them, including a 15-year-old, were flown back from Azerbaijan. The Games take place amid rampant criticism about Azerbaijan’s human rights record. At least 80 people are imprisoned in Azerbaijan for political reasons, according to the Prisoners Watch project, launched by JumpStart and Meydan TV. Since 2012, the number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, a member of the Council of Europe, has increased by approximately 400%, according to the project. By some accounts, Azerbaijan spent a whopping $8 billion to hold the Games, in a country where an average teacher’s salary equals $150 per month.

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