Azerbaijan: Report about artistic freedom of expression

13 May 2014

A new 33-page report by Art for Democracy details cases of violations of the right to artistic freedom of expression over the past three years in Azerbaijan.


According to the report, ‘Creativity Under Pressure: Artistic Freedom of Expression in Azerbaijan’, the Azerbaijani authorities have used a range of tactics to silence critical artistic expression, including harassment, intimidation, threats, interference, legal pressure, arrest, imprisonment, and torture.

Several musicians who were interviewed for the report by Art for Democracy talk about studios refusing to record songs related to human rights, political freedoms, social issues, or other topics considered to be critical.

Owners of concert venues and recording studios often face pressure from the authorities, and are prevented from allowing critical musicians to perform or record.

The report has a chapter entitled ‘Pressure on musicians’. It quotes, among others, exiled Azerbaijani rock musician Azer Cirttan, Togrul Ahmadov, who is member of the rock group Tengri, and the young composer Firudin Allahverdi. They talk about the difficult conditions faced by many musicians.


In May 2012, rocker/rapper Jamal Ali was forced to leave Azerbaijan for safety after he was detained for 10 days and tortured by police officers. Ali had been arrested at an opposition protest that he had performed at with his band, Bulistan, in Baku, where he had made insulting remarks about President Aliyev’s mother. He reported that police placed a bag on his head and beat him with a truncheon, before threatening him with a longer jail term and pressuring him to leave the country. Ali continues to live in exile abroad.

In March 2011, Araz Elses, an ethnic Azeri singer from Iran, was prevented from performing when his concert venue canceled on the day of the performance, without explanation.

In February 2013, rapper Dado (Said Aliyev) was arrested following the release of a song titled ‘Y.P.X. Avtosh’, which was critical of Azerbaijan’s traffic police.

In June 2013, a criminal case was opened against composer Huseyn Abdullayev, after he released a song called ‘Susma’ (Don’t Keep Silent). A day after the song was released, the composer’s brother, Azer Abdullayev, was dismissed from his job.

In February 2014, Baku police prevented a concert of rapper Kabus (Ghost) from taking place. The concert was planned to be held in the Veten cinema and had been advertised for two weeks. However, just a few hours before the concert, Nasimi district police officers came to the cinema and announced that the concert was banned for unspecified security reasons.

The report ‘Creativity Under Pressure’ is published by the Baku-based Art for Democracy campaign. Art for Democracy is a campaign that uses art to promote democracy and human rights in Azerbaijan. The group has faced significant pressure since its launch in December 2012, including the attempted launch event for this very report, which was cancelled by three hotels in Baku.

Index on Censorship has posted the report on its website as Art for Democracy’s new website,, has faced a hack attack shortly after being live and is not currently functioning.

For an executive summary and more information, see:

Index on Censorship – 12 May 2014:
Art for Democracy: Artistic freedom of expression in Azerbaijan
Article by Melody Patry

Read the report:

» Creativity Under Pressure: Artistic Freedom of Expression in Azerbaijan (PDF)

The report’s conclusion

“As this report shows, although the Azerbaijani government has committed to promote and protect the right to artistic freedom of expression, this right is not respected in practice. Critical artists in Azerbaijan do not enjoy the same conditions and opportunites as artists in the state’s favour, and the authorities limit their ability to perform, display, or disseminate their work through direct and indirect means. As a result, few artists remain willing to publicly express critical views or use their work to explore controversial themes, and those who do face serious consequences. This has led to self-censorship among artists – a problem that also plagues the media and other communities in Azerbaijan.

As with addressing the many other widespread and systemic human rights violations taking place in Azerbaijan, creating an environment truly conducive to the right to artistic freedom of expression is a question of political will. However, rather than progressing in the fulfillment of Azerbaijan’s human rights obligations and stated commitment to democratization, the authorities have been steadily backsliding for a number of years. At present, there is little hope of positive reforms being implemented in the near future.

To address the violations outlined in this report, and the broader alarming human rights situation in the country, there is a need for more serious efforts by the international community to hold the Azerbaijani government accountable for its human rights commitments. In particular, the Council of Europe should take immediate steps to ensure the Azerbaijani government is fulfilling its obligations as a member state, in light of Azerbaijan’s imminent Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers in May 2014.

Art for Democracy also believes the situation of artistic freedom of expression could be improved through genuine cooperation with UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Farida Shaheed. Art for Democracy has called on the Azerbaijani government to invite Shaheed to undertake a fact-finding visit to the country, and to allow her unfettered access to artists of all genres. The campaign has further called on the Azerbaijani government to incorporate the recommendations contained in Shaheed’s report on ‘The right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity’54 into all relevant legislation, policies, and practices.

In the meantime, in the face of ongoing repression, there is a need for greater support to independent artists in Azerbaijan. There are many talented young photographers, cartoonists, painters, musicians, actors, filmmakers, writers, and artists of other genres, who cannot effectively disseminate their work to the broader public due to politically motivated restrictions and interference from the authorities. To learn more about these artists and to experience their work, please visit Art for Democracy’s new website at”

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