Pharrell Williams breaks silence and speaks out for ‘freedom’ in autocratic Azerbaijan after pressure from international human rights coalition
- Singer says young people in Azerbaijan will create ‘change’ in the future and ‘no one can stop them’
- Passionate speech on stage in Baku comes in response to the Sport for Rights coalition’s request asking singer to use F1 European Grand Prix performance to speak out for human rights
- UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2016 laureate investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova added her voice to the call on Pharrell in Washington Post op/ed the previous day
For immediate release
Singer Pharrell Williams has spoken out for freedom in Azerbaijan after the Sport for Rights coalition put pressure on the singer’s management. He spoke of young people in Azerbaijan creating change in the future, and said that no one could “stop them” or “block them”, which activists believe was a reference to the jailed youth activists of the NIDA civic movement that has stood up to Azerbaijan’s corrupt ruling regime.
Pharrell told the crowd in Baku:
“Make some noise for the youth of Azerbaijan! Those beautiful children: they are the future! They are the future! When they grow up they will change things not only here, but around the world and no one can stop them. No one can block them. No one can get in their way”.
“So tonight, when we sing this song Freedom, I want you to sing this song with me, and I want you to say a prayer for things… so those kids grow up to change things, not only in this country, but around the world… Sing Freedom! Freedom!”
The statement came after direct intervention from the Sport for Rights coalition with Pharrell’s management and hard-hitting opinion pieces from award-winning investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova in the Washington Post, and director of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety Emin Huseynov in The Observer, the weekend of the performance.
Rebecca Vincent of Sport for Rights said:
“We are thrilled that Pharrell Williams responded to our call to speak out for freedom on stage in Baku. We hope the government of Azerbaijan, which will have been well-represented at that concert, will heed Pharrell’s call and immediately release the jailed youth activists and dozens of other political prisoners in the country”.
Gulnara Akhundova of International Media Support said:
“The Azerbaijani regime gave Pharrell a platform, and rather than allowing his performance to be used for propaganda purposes, he called for freedom. I’m pleased he has stood in solidarity with the Azerbaijani people who are simply not free. Now the government must listen and guarantee that people can speak freely without fear of imprisonment or any other type of harassment”.
The Sport for Rights coalition, which campaigns for human rights in Azerbaijan, has highlighted to the international community the attempts of Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev regime to use big sporting and music events, such as the European Games and the Eurovision Song Contest, to distract from its abysmal human rights record.
Azerbaijan is one of the least free countries on earth. Reporters Without Borders’ 2016 World Press Freedom Index ranked Azerbaijan 163rd out of 180 countries, stating “Not content with crushing all forms of pluralism, President Ilham Aliyev has been waging a relentless war against his remaining critics since 2014”.
President Aliyev rules the country with an iron grip, with a reported 70 political prisoners in jail, and journalists beaten and subjected to surveillance. Since the adoption of the country’s current constitution in 1995, Azerbaijan has not held a single free and fair election.
Notes to Editors:
For background, including case studies of the jailed youth activists and other political prisoners, click here.