Baku Hotel Owners Questioned On Hidden Sex Camera Claims
In the run-up to next week's Eurovision Song Contest, seven hotels in the host city, Baku, have been quizzed by a rights group about claims that hidden cameras have been placed in guest rooms to record people having sex so as to blackmail them.
That's what one local rights group is advising visitors to Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, for the Eurovision Song Contest there next week.
The group, Azad Genclik Teskilati (Free Youth), claims "hidden cameras are installed on the premises of all...hotels without exception," and that footage made with the cameras "can later be used against tourists for blackmail."
The corporate headquarters of major international hotels in Baku have given assurances that they have policies in place to protect guests' privacy.
But the concerns arose after hidden cameras were used in some Azerbaijani hotels to make secret sex videos of opposition journalists and critics of Azerbaijan's government -- violating their right to privacy in an attempt to blackmail them and silence dissent.
In one case, a video of two opposition journalists engaged in sexual acts was later broadcast on a television channel owned by a cousin of Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev.
Christopher Avery, the director of the London-based Business & Human Rights Resource Centre -- which tracks the impact on human rights of 5,000 companies around the world -- told RFE/RL that it was incumbent on the hotels to show that they have taken steps to ensure this doesn't happen again.
"Concerns were raised that this was happening in hotels, and indeed, there is evidence that it did happen in hotels," he said.
"Now whether this is the hotels acting in complicity with the government, whether they were pressured by the government or by somebody else to allow the cameras to be planted, or whether this happened without the hotels' knowledge, we don't know.
"But the very fact that this has happened is something that the hotels have to carry some responsibility for."
Avery's group questioned the corporate offices of seven international hotels in Baku: the Excelsior, Hilton, Hyatt, Kempinski, Radisson, Ramada, and Sheraton.
All responded that they have corporate policies in place to ensure the rights of their guests are respected. Two directly addressed the hidden-camera concerns.
"I can tell you that it is not possible to install hidden cameras in our hotel rooms," the Excelsior's security chief replied. "Because we know how to fight against this kind of illegal activity. And I can ensure you that we have never faced this kind of problem in the past and I am sure we will not have this problem in future."
The Hyatt hotel also insisted that it would be vigilant about guests' privacy concerns. "The hotels have confirmed that they are unaware of the kind of conduct described...occurring on their premises," the Hyatt's response read. "We will certainly be on alert for any such inappropriate conduct and will investigate any allegations brought to our attention."
The Ramada/Wyndham Group, whose hotels are owned by individuals with franchise rights to use the Ramada name, said any hotel owners who violated the rights of guests risked being stripped of their franchise rights.
Avery said his rights group will continue to monitor the situation and will contact the parent companies of any Baku hotels where complaints of hidden cameras persist in the wake of the Eurovision contest.
International human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have also raised concerns about other human rights abuses in Azerbaijan during the lead-up to the Eurovision competition.