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UEFA slammed by Amnesty International for holding Europa League final in Baku
2019-05-23 11:37:58

Amnesty International have slammed UEFA's decision to stage the Europa Leaguefinal in Azerbaijan and said the country cannot be allowed to 'sportswash its appalling human rights record' by holding major games.

Arsenal and Chelsea meet in the Europa League final at the Olympic Stadium in Baku on May 29, which will also be the venue for four games during the European Championship next year.

There has been severe criticism of UEFA's call to hold the showpiece game in Azerbaijan, not least after Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan said he would not travel to the game over fears for his safety.

In a statement, Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said: 'Fans will be glued to their TVs during this game but we must ensure that Azerbaijan isn't allowed to 'sportswash' its appalling human rights record as a result of the football fanfare.

"Azerbaijan is in the grip of a sinister human rights crackdown, with journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders being ruthlessly targeted. Unfair trials and smear campaigns remain commonplace," she said. 

According to her, "fans, players and backroom staff can help prevent Azerbaijan's likely attempt to sportswash its image by informing themselves about the human rights situation behind the glitzy facade of Wednesday's match."

"All too often, governments are using high-profile sporting competitions to distract attention from repressive policies and human rights violations, to instead project an image of openness. This couldn't be further from the truth with the current administration, and the Arsenal-Chelsea clash is just the latest reminder of this," Allen added.

More than 150 people are being held in prison in Azerbaijan on politically motivated charges, according to human rights defenders.

Mass arrests are also used within the nation to silence the media and crack down on non-governmental organisations. The country, which has been run by president Ilham Aliyev since 2003, is currently ranked 166th on Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index, the lowest ranking in Europe.

There has also been significant criticism of the location for the final as it is incredibly difficult for Arsenal and Chelsea fans to get there. A large proportion of tickets have been allocated to local fans and sponsors.

Mkhitaryan, who captains Armenia, has skipped club games in Azerbaijan before, including a group stage game against Qarabag in this season's Europa League.