Sport for Rights Campaign addressed letters to Pharrell Williams, Enrique Iglesias and Chris Brown ahead of their performance at the Formula One European Grand Prix in Baku on June 19. The coalition of international organizations urged the celebrities to cancel their performances and condemn the human rights crackdown in Azerbaijan.
The letters read the following:
Among Azerbaijan’s political prisoners is Khadija Ismayilova, a courageous investigative journalist targeted for exposing corruption of the ruling elite through stories that are continuing to unravel through the Panama Papers leak. Another journalist, Seymur Hezi, is jailed on trumped-up hooliganism charges, following years of pressure against him, such as being abducted and tortured, and warned to stop criticising Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov, who attempted to challenge Aliyev’s presidency in 2013, has been imprisoned for over three years, and has reported being repeatedly tortured. Youth activist Ilkin Rustemzade has also been jailed for more than three years, initially arrested in connection with a “Harlem Shake” video filmed in Baku.
As with previous prestige events, the Azerbaijani authorities are using the European Grand Prix in an attempt to whitewash their image, to distract international attention from the human rights abuses taking place in the country. Whether or not it is your intention, your performance would be used as part of that cover-up, as propaganda for an increasingly authoritarian government. A performance in Azerbaijan would serve to further the suffering of the country’s political prisoners, and the many others whose rights have been violated by the very government that will profit from the European Grand Prix.
But you still have the chance to make this right. We urge you to cancel your Baku performance, and to speak out publicly, condemning the human rights crackdown in Azerbaijan, and calling for the immediate and unconditional release of political prisoners.
We call your attention to comments made by U2 lead singer Bono on stage in Montreal last June, on the night of the opening ceremony of the European Games in Baku. Bono specifically named six Azerbaijani political prisoners, displayed their photos in the arena, and conveyed a message to President Aliyev: “If anything happens to one of our friends, we will hold you responsible!” Five of the prisoners he named have since been released. We believe that you taking a strong stand for human rights could also have a significant impact.