Rihanna, Shakira warned over Azerbaijan concerts

Campaigners on Friday warned pop stars Rihanna and Shakira that their concerts in Azerbaijan this month would be held against a backdrop of alleged human rights violations and crackdowns on free speech.

“Top selling artists Rihanna and Shakira should bear in mind the human rights abuses being inflicted on the people of Azerbaijan before they perform in the country’s capital later this month,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

The two singers are to appear in Baku this month at concerts staged around the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup football tournament which is currently being held in the oil-rich ex-Soviet state.

Amnesty International said it had sent a letter to the singers informing them about the “multiple arrests and persecution of journalists, bloggers and political activists” in Azerbaijan.

“Amnesty International believes that the Azerbaijani government should afford all artists, journalists, activists and ordinary citizens the right to express themselves freely without fear of reprisal,” the rights group said in the letter.

Pop star Jennifer Lopez has already performed at the football tournament’s opening ceremony, where her concert featured strongman President Ilham Aliyev’s singing son-in-law Emin Agalarov as a support act.

Azerbaijan has been seeking to boost its international image by hosting high-profile events like the Eurovision song contest in May.

But activists have tried to use the country’s heightened profile to draw attention to alleged political repression and persecution of journalists.

Azerbaijan has become an important supplier of Caspian Sea energy resources to the West, and authorities insist that free speech and human rights are fully protected.

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