The furore around Azerbaijan hosting the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest is growing with British LGBT activist Pieter Tatchell joining the fray.
This comes after neighbouring Iran recalled its ambassador to Azerbaijan, accusing the secular but largely Islamic country of planning to host a “gay parade” together with the contest.
On Thursday, Tatchell said that “the Eurovision organisers have failed to secure guarantees from the Azerbaijani government that it will respect the human rights of its citizens, that visitors to Eurovision will not be victimised and that journalists covering the event will be able to report freely, without harassment.”
The contest, which is set to take place in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, this Saturday, has a massive gay fan base.
“Eurovision is renowned for its glitz, camp and kitsch,” said Tatchell. “It has a huge gay following, yet Azerbaijan is often not a welcoming or safe country for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.”
He pointed out that while homosexuality is legal in Azerbaijan, the LGBT community suffers periodic police harassment and homophobic violence and that LGBT people have no legal protection against discrimination.
Tatchell accused the contest organisers of colluding with the government of Azerbaijan to use “Eurovision as a propaganda tool to project a modern, liberal image to the outside world.”
The ongoing diplomatic row between Iran and Azerbaijan began when a local gay website posted an article about the possibility of hosting a Pride parade to coincide with the Eurovision contest.
Although the parade was simply a rumour and officials repeatedly denied it would take place, Iranian clerics and officials slammed the country for planning a parade for “perverts” and on May 11 anti-gay protests were held in Iran.
This led to a counter protest outside the Iranian embassy in Baku accusing Iran of meddling in Azerbaijan’s affairs. In retaliation, Iran withdrew its ambassador from Baku on Wednesday over the country’s “insulting of religious saints.”
The annual Eurovision Song Contest, in which a number of European, Asian and Middle East countries compete for the best song, saw the international debut of ABBA in 1974. The 2012 contest is the 57th edition.