Protests taint Eurovision

The Eurovision Song Contest, the cheese festival that annually unites Europe in a mutual hostility to the hapless British entrant, is looking rather less innocent in 2012.

After the Azerbaijani duo Ell and Nikki won last year, the contest is being hosted in Baku. Unfortunately Azerbaijan’s record on human rights sits rather uncomfortably next to the mass influx of camp pop singers from across the continent. Rehearsals are being conducted to the backdrop of a brutal crackdown on democracy campaigners.

Jamal Ali, an Azerbaijani rap artist, fled the country claiming he had been beaten and tortured by police. Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s president, who could have been the inspiration for Sacha Baron-Cohen’s character in The Dictator, has claimed that the event will highlight the country's "values, culture and tolerance".

Protests and demonstrations are being blamed on agitation by neighbouring Armenia. A Channel 4 news report though uncovered evidence of heavy-handed police harassment of anyone critical of the Aliyev regime. Much of the intimidation seems to have been instigated by oil industry security forces, who also happen to be one of the Eurovision sponsors.

As well as Western criticism, Azerbaijan is also facing hostility from Iran, which has withdrawn its ambassador in protest at Baku’s staging of what Iran calls a "gay parade".

The United Kingdom representative in the contest, the venerable hip-thruster Engelbert Humperdinck, remains oblivious to any political controversy, telling Channel 4 that he concentrated on showbusiness rather than politics. His biggest hit Please Release Me (Let Me Go) may yet be adopted as a suitable anthem for Azerbaijan’s human rights campaigners.

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