Neelie KROES
Vice-President of the European Commission

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Press Freedom Day – the world looks to Azerbaijan

Today, 3 May, is United Nations World Press Freedom Day. For me this is a chance to remember the fundamental rights, including to self-expression, that are safeguarded for all of us in the European Union - whether you're a journalist, blogger or ordinary citizen. And a chance to remember those people around the world who don't have those protections, and are often restricted in what they can say or investigate. In places without human rights safeguards, the right to express oneself is all the more important. People who struggle for democracy must have a voice.  People like Eynulla Fatullayev: Azerbaijani journalist, human rights activist and winner of the 2012 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. He dared to speak up to defend freedom of expression — and was for a time imprisoned for having done so. I salute his brave work. Indeed, countless organisations – including Amnesty International, Article 19, Reporters without Borders, Index on Censorship and the International Federation of Journalists – have noted that Azerbaijan does not respect the right to freedom of expression: as journalists are pressured, threatened, and ultimately imprisoned. In a few weeks, the world's media will descend on Azerbaijan ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest (held this year in Baku thanks to last year's winner, ironically entitled Running Scared). What will they think if they discover that fellow local journalists are being repeatedly imprisoned simply for speaking freely? I suspect that these issues of media freedom – rather than the Contest itself – may draw much of their focus; unless the Azerbaijani government takes immediate action to improve the situation, we will know soon enough. Eurovision should be a unique chance to celebrate our unity and diversity, to glimpse into others' cultures, and (thanks to digital technology) to interact with them. And of course, to have a good time. The EBU, under whose auspices Eurovision is organised, have stated that Azerbaijan's violation of freedom of speech is unacceptable – and indeed recently discussed this issue in detail. The Azerbaijani government has promised to ensure press freedom during the event, but these actions have not until now had any tangible results. Now, Amnesty International together with Eurovision contestants have launched a campaign to ensure better respect for human rights in Azerbaijan. I fully support this request to the Azerbaijani government to take a more proactive approach to this serious problem. Hosting an event like Eurovision cannot be the excuse for repressing freedom of expression, what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon calls "one of our most precious rights". On the contrary, measures to clear the situation should start before the contest, and continue further in the future.

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