Azerbaijan blocks Amnesty visit ahead of European Games

A general view of flags at Bilgah Beach for the triathlon event ahead of the 1st European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan - 10 June 2015 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The European Games is a multi-sport event along the lines of an Olympics

Azerbaijan has blocked a visit by Amnesty International in which it planned to highlight alleged human rights abuses in the country.

Amnesty had planned to launch a report entitled Azerbaijan: the Repression Games ahead of the inaugural European Games, due to be held there this month.

But Azeri officials in London said they were not welcome "at the present time".

Earlier, a British activist was deported from Baku after being detained on arrival in the capital on Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was given one month to halt its operations in the country.

The crackdown comes just months before parliamentary elections.

Several activists and journalists have been jailed in Azerbaijan this year and last on charges including illegal business activity and hooliganism. Their lawyers say the trials were politically motivated.

'Criticism-free zone'

The European Games, a multi-sport event along the lines of the Olympics, open in the former Soviet republic on Friday and run until 28 June.

Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said the crackdown by authorities "only highlighted their desperate attempts to create a criticism-free zone around the games".

He added that the legacy of the event would be to "further encourage repressive authorities around the world to view major international sporting events as a ticket to international prestige".

In its new report, the London-based group said the government's campaign against activists had left Azerbaijan "without independent voices".

"Behind the image trumpeted by the government of a forward-looking, modern nation is a state where criticism of the authorities is routinely and increasingly met with repression," said the report, which was released on Wednesday.

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What are the European Games?

Azerbaijan country profile

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The tightly-controlled country has built state-of-the-art facilities in a bid to improve its image

President Ilham Aliyev, who has ruled since his father died in 2003, denies accusations of abuses.

The energy-rich country sees the games as an opportunity to build its international profile and has set aside $1.2 billion (£800m; €1.1bn) for infrastructure, travel and accommodation expenses for some 6,000 athletes and delegates involved.

The move to block Amnesty's visit came as Emma Hughes of British-based activism group Platform was deported after being detained at Baku airport.

Platform said Ms Hughes had press accreditation to cover the games and was also planning to support political prisoners in the country.

She arrived on a flight from Rome on Tuesday but was detained after being told she was on a "red list" of people who could not enter the country.

Ms Hughes is the author of a Platform report entitled All that Glitters - Sport, BP and Repression in Azerbaijan, due to be published on Friday.

On Wednesday, she tweeted: "I'm back in London but 100+ prisoners of oil games are still jailed".

Azerbaijan's government is yet to comment on the claims made by Platform and Amnesty or the actions taken against them.

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