Eurovision winner Loreen, who stormed to victory last night (26 May) at the Eurovision Song Contest, has spoken publicly about Azerbaijan’s gay rights record.
The Swedish pop star met with human rights activists this week in the capital to encourage their fight for equality.
‘Human rights are violated in Azerbaijan every day. One should not be silent about such things,’ Azeri opposition newspaper Azadliq quoted Loreen as saying after her meeting.
Azerbaijan’s human rights record cast a shadow over the international pop contest, especially after it was revealed Baku residents had been forced out to make room for the newly-built Eurovision venue Crystal Hall.
Azeri authorities responded by criticising Loreen for making political statements.
Head of the public and political issues department at the presidential administration Ali Hasanov said: ‘Unfortunately there are some attempts of politicisation. The musical event cannot be politicised.’
Loreen evaded questions about her meeting at a press conference on Friday (25 May), after concerns from Eurovision officials that she might speak out during the grand final.
She said: ‘There are two parts of me, one that is private and one that is my work I'm doing here. Just today I want to keep the focus on this energy that we created right now.’
Homosexuality was illegal in the country until 2001, when Azerbaijan was forced to decriminalise the law to be accepted into the Council of Europe.
Gay Azeri artist Babi Badalov, who has recently been granted political asylum in France, told the BBC: ‘My brother has vowed to kill me, and then kill himself.’
He added: ‘The day I was 'outed', my sister screamed at me on the phone and told me to stay out of Azerbaijan. I don't think I will ever be able to speak to any of them again.’
LGBT rights advocate Peter Tatchell said: ‘Azerbaijan has a shocking human rights record. It restricts religious and media freedom, suppresses peaceful protests, tortures political prisoners and jails journalists and opposition activists on trumped up charges.’
Eurovision will be held next year in Sweden, the first country in the world to say homosexuality is not an illness.