The Azerbaijani Government are trying to “crackdown on freedom of expression” after Amnesty International were denied entry into the country ahead of the inaugural European Games in Baku, a spokesperson for the organisation told insidethegames.
Amnesty International yesterday claimed it had been forced to cancel a press conference here where it planned to release a damning report into human rights issues.
“Azerbaijan is not in a position to welcome the Amnesty mission to Baku at the present time,” the Azerbaijan Embassy in Britain allegedly told the organisation.
Responding to the claims, National Adviser to the President of Azerbaijan Ali Hasanov insisted they had “no grounds” for their allegations, claiming that they had in fact not even applied for visas and that it was part of a “campaign” against the country fuelled by “envy”.
Amnesty International claim they followed the correct procedure and that them not being allowed into the country is part of a wider scheme from the Azerbaijani Government to remove any negativity surrounding this inaugural event.
Naomi Westland, one of those who was supposed to travel to Baku for the briefing, told insidethegames that she and two other members of staff already had the required visas to gain entry, while the other had applied “in plenty of time” but that he was yet to receive it.
“It would appear they are trying to crackdown on the freedom of expression and to cut access to the Games to stop negative reporting,” Westland said.
Amnesty International claim journalists who have spoken out in Azerbaijan over the concerns about human rights have been assaulted, harassed and even thrown in jail.
The row between the Azerbaijani Government and Amnesty International has cast a shadow over the Games just a day before they open and it has also been reported the British newspaper The Guardian has been denied accreditation for the event.
The European Olympic Committees (EOC) have condemned the decision by Azerbaijani officials refusal to give an accreditation to the newspaper.
"This is completely against the spirit of sport, which is about dialogue between people of different views and backgrounds," they said in a statement.
"The EOC has taken this matter up with the Azerbaijan authorities and now that President Patrick Hickey is in Baku, he will be urging the highest levels of Government to take the necessary steps to ensure full and free reporting on Baku 2015 for all media wishing to cover the European Games.
"These high-level discussions will be conducted in private.
"The EOC will not be commenting further at this time."