YEREVAN/BAKU (Combined Sources)–The organizer of the Eurovision song contest said on Wednesday that it is investigating reports that security bodies in Azerbaijan have tracked down and interrogated local residents who voted for Armenia during this year’s competition, reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Security forces in Azerbaijan have launched a campaign against dozens of citizens for voting for the wrong entry in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, during which 43 Azeris voted for the Armenian duo Inga and Anush and their song “Jan-Jan” in the finale of one of Europe’s most popular television shows held in Moscow on May 16.
“They said it was a matter of national security,” one of them, Rovshan Nasirli, told RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service last week. “They were trying to put psychological pressure on me, saying things like, ‘You have no sense of ethnic pride. How come you voted for Armenia?’ They made me write out an explanation, and then they let me go.”
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), an association of European television companies that organizes the annual contest, appears to have been alarmed by the extraordinary development. The EBU’s executive supervisor, Svante Stockselius, told the Azerbaijani APA news agency on Wednesday that it launched an inquiry last week, reported RFE/RL.
“Our technical partners will also take part in the inquiry,” Stockselius was quoted as saying. “The inquiry will also enable local broadcasters to bring clarity to the matter.”
Under the EBU’s existing rules, Eurovision winners are decided by a jury of music industry specialists formed in each of the participating nations and millions of TV viewers voting by phone or by SMS. They are free to vote for any country other than their own.
Some 1,065 Armenians voted for Azerbaijan’s “Always” entry that featured a Swedish-Iranian singer and finished third in the competition. Armenia’s Inga and Anush came in tenth.
According to the BBC, Azeri authorities confirmed that Nasirli and other people were questioned over their Eurovision votes but denied intimidating or putting pressure on them.
“If Azerbaijani parliament members can go to Armenia, then what’s wrong with voting for the Armenian song in the contest?” asked Nasirli. “I told them, ‘If you don’t want people to vote for Armenia, then why are you in the same contest with them?'”
Chief Azeri presidential foreign policy advisor Novruz Mammadov, in an interview with the APA news agency, blamed Azeri officials’ inexperience “given that Azerbaijan is a fairly young republic,” as well as the opposition in his country on the state of affairs.
He also went on to blame Armenia for what he called “fueling the matter to score dividends with Western countrie.”
The case has also set off alarm bells in Azerbaijan’s rights community. Activist Avaz Hasanov called the move “unbelievable” and warned that Azerbaijan, which has already seen a steady clampdown on civil rights under President Ilham Aliyev, is moving toward a police state.
“Limiting people’s choices in such an obvious manner won’t do any good for the country,” Hasanov told RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service. “If all SMS and phone conversations are being screened, then this country is nothing more than a police state, with people being watched all the time.”