Azerbaijan: Creativity under Pressure

The authorities Azerbaijan restrict the right to artistic freedom of expression, particularly with regard to alternative artists and artists considered to be critical of the government, a new report “Creativity under Pressure” says.

The report is produced by the Art for Democracy campaign, which uses all forms of artistic expression to promote democracy and human rights in Azerbaijan. The report examines the situation of artistic freedom of expression in Azerbaijan from 2011 to the time of publication, April 2014.

According to the report, the ability of artists to perform, display, or disseminate their work is limited 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.

The report is divided into three chapters. The first chapter sets out international standards for artistic freedom of expression, which Azerbaijan has committed to protect and respect through its membership in a number of international organizations and its ratification of or accession to international treaties.

The second chapter covers the domestic legal framework for artistic freedom of expression. Azerbaijani legislation largely conforms to international standards for artistic freedom of expression; however, many of these laws allow for state interference, which could be used as means of censoring artistic expression. Further, the continued presence of criminal defamation provisions in Azerbaijani legislation contradicts international standards and has a chilling effect on freedom of expression, contributing to widespread practices of self-censorship in the country, including in the arts.

The third chapter examines freedom of artistic expression in practice in Azerbaijan, detailing cases of pressure on musicians; film, television, and theater workers; writers, poets, and publishers; human rights defenders who campaign for the right to artistic freedom of expression or who use artistic forms of expression to draw attention to the human rights situation in Azerbaijan; and political activists who use creative means of expressing critical political views.

In publishing this report, the Art for Democracy campaign hopes to draw greater awareness, both within Azerbaijan and at the international level, to ongoing restrictions of the right to artistic freedom of expression in Azerbaijan, and in that regard, to improve the situation in the country.