Sport For Rights: Letters to Pharrell Williams, Enrique Iglesias & Chris Brown ahead of their peformance at the Formula One European Grand Prix in Baku

​Sport for Rights' campaign, of which OMCT is member, has been established to raise the problem of political prisoners in the context of the forthcoming international sporting events to be hosted by Azerbaijan.

Sport for Rights Campaign sent three letters to Pharrell Williams, Enrique Iglesias and Chris Brown ahead of their peformance at the Formula One European Grand Prix in Baku.

Please find them all in the PDF files attached.

21April 2016

DearMr Williams,

Weare writing to you as members of the Sport for Rights campaign, which has beenworking to raise human rights violations in Azerbaijan in the run-up to theFormula One European Grand Prix. We are deeply disappointed by your decision toperform in Baku on 19 June in connection with the European Grand Prix, giventhe dire human rights situation in the country. We urge you to take a stand forhuman rights in Azerbaijan and cancel your Baku performance.

Wehave observed your support for the respect for the fundamental freedoms of allpeople, such as your comments at the United Nations on the International Day ofHappiness last March, where you stated, “Happiness is your birthright”. Youspoke out again in October dedicating your song “Freedom” to the refugee crisisin Europe, saying, “Freedom is something you’re born with. No one has to giveit to you”.

Unfortunately,that is not the case for the people of Azerbaijan, whose rights have not beenrespected or protected. Although 16 political prisoners were recently released,dozens still languish in Azerbaijani jails, including journalists, bloggers,youth activists, politicians, and religious followers guilty of nothing morethan disagreeing with the government. Despite the fact that they never shouldhave spent a single day in jail, the released prisoners have not beenrehabilitated, still under legal restrictions that impede their work and theirlives, with some facing travel bans preventing them from accessing urgentlyneeded medical attention. More broadly, civil society is attempting to work innearly impossible conditions, and a number of NGOs face politically motivatedcriminal investigations. Journalists operate in a climate of fear, in a mediaenvironment dominated by the state, where violent attacks – even murders –against critical voices are committed with impunity.

AmongAzerbaijan’s political prisoners is Khadija Ismayilova, a courageousinvestigative journalist targeted for exposing corruption of the ruling elitethrough stories that are continuing to unravel through the Panama Papers leak.Another journalist, Seymur Hezi, is jailed on trumped-up hooliganism charges, followingyears of pressure against him, such as being abducted and tortured, and warnedto stop criticising Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Opposition leader IlgarMammadov, who attempted to challenge Aliyev’s presidency in 2013, has beenimprisoned for over three years, and has reported being repeatedly tortured.Youth activist Ilkin Rustemzade has also been jailed for more than three years,initially arrested in connection with a “Harlem Shake” video filmed in Baku.

Aswith previous prestige events, the Azerbaijani authorities are using theEuropean Grand Prix in an attempt to whitewash their image, to distractinternational attention from the human rights abuses taking place in thecountry. Whether or not it is your intention, your performance would be used aspart of that cover-up, as propaganda for an increasingly authoritarian government.Although you hope for your music to bring happiness to people all over theworld, a performance in Azerbaijan would serve to further the suffering of thecountry’s political prisoners, and the many others whose rights have beenviolated by the very government that will profit from the European Grand Prix.

Butyou still have the chance to make this right. We urge you to cancel your Bakuperformance, and to speak out publicly, condemning the human rights crackdownin Azerbaijan, and calling for the immediate and unconditional release ofpolitical prisoners. We call your attention to comments made by U2 lead singerBono on stage in Montreal last June, on the night of the opening ceremony ofthe European Games in Baku. Bono specifically named six Azerbaijani politicalprisoners, displayed their photos in the arena, and conveyed a message to PresidentAliyev: “If anything happens to one of our friends, we will hold youresponsible!” Five of the prisoners he named have since been released. Webelieve that you taking a strong stand for human rights could also have asignificant impact.

Please,have some compassion for these courageous people, imprisoned for speaking thetruth and trying to change the situation in Azerbaijan for the better. Show theworld that you care, and that your silence cannot be bought.


Rebecca Vincent, Coordinator,Sport for Rights campaign

Mike Harris,Director, 89up

Thomas Hughes,Executive Director, ARTICLE 19

Alice Klein,President, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Nina Ognianova,Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator, Committee to Protect


MaranTurner, Executive Director, Freedom Now

DanutaPrzywara, President of the Board, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Florian Irminger,Head of Advocacy, Human Rights House Foundation

MelodyPatry, Senior Advocacy Officer, Index on Censorship

EminHuseynov, Director, Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety

KarimLahidji, President, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

BrigitteDufour, Director, International Partnership for Human Rights

JamesMarriott, Co-Director, Platform

Petra Havlikova, Project Coordinator of theWomen’s Rights Are Human Rights


Berit Lindeman, Senior Advisor, NorwegianHelsinki Committee

Karin Karlekar,Director, Free Expression Programs, PEN America

Ivana Skalova, Headof the East European Program, People in Need

AleksandraAntonowicz-Cyglicka, Head of Programme, Action for the Global

South, Polish Green Network

GeraldStaberock, Secretary General, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

ŁukaszBiernacki, Managing Director, You Aid Foundation

Please find the three Letters to Pharrell Williams, Enrique Iglesias and Chris Brown in the PDF files attached.

Sign up now

Subscribe to our latest news & alerts