CPJ, HRW call on president of European Olympic Committees to engage with Azerbaijan on press freedom, human rights

A delegation of representatives from CPJ and Human Rights Watch met yesterday with Patrick Hickey, president of the European Olympic Committees, at the Dublin headquarters of the Olympic Council of Ireland. The delegation discussed the dismal state of press freedom and human rights in Azerbaijan, the host of the first-ever European Games in June and one of the 10 Most Censored Countries in the world.

In the meeting, I gave Hickey a letter, urging him to engage with the Azerbaijani government in his capacity as EOCs’ top authority and ensure that all journalists and media outlets are free to cover all aspects of the European Games–including the political, economic, social, and human rights contexts in which they take place. Only such coverage, I told him, would adhere to the principles set by the Olympic Charter–the EOC’s governing document. The letter I gave him also called for the release of eight imprisoned journalists, any charges to be dropped against press freedom advocate Emin Huseynov, and all laws that restrict the media and freedom of expression in Azerbaijan to be scrapped. That, the letter said, ought to be done before the Games’ opening ceremony on June 12.

“Dear President Hickey, you have the unique opportunity to influence the Azerbaijani government and help improve press freedom conditions in the country,” I said in the letter. “By doing so, you will ensure that the legacy of the first-ever European Games–and that of your EOC presidency–is one of reform. This will be a chance to make a difference and truly use the Olympic movement as a force for good.”

The HRW-CPJ delegation also met with representatives of the Irish government, members of the Irish Parliament, and Irish media.

[Reporting from Dublin]