Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has urged Eurovision contestants and organisers to stand up against President Aliyev and his dictatorial regime in Azerbaijan, which many see as being incompatible with the competition’s inclusive values.

The glare of the media spotlight is now on the country after its act, Ell and Nikki, won the Eurovision song contest last year, but the majority of headlines have focused on the country’s human rights record and its commitment to LGBT people, rather than the music.

“President Aliyev is using Eurovision as a propaganda tool to project a modern, liberal image to the outside world. The song contest organisers are colluding with his spin and PR,” said Tatchell, ahead of the contest which takes place in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, on Saturday.

“The Eurovision organisers have received no guarantees from the Azerbaijani regime that it will respect human rights, that visitors to Eurovision will not be victimised and that journalists covering the event will be able to report freely.”

Tatchell is urging those taking part to make a stand in whatever way they can against the restrictions on freedom of speech – even making a statement such as ‘I love freedom’, he says, may make an impact.

Open criticism of the contest, which was seen by the International Lesbian and Gay Association as an opportunity for the country to ‘move towards openness’, may be viewed with suspicion by the police. Last year, protesters who voted for the neighbouring country of Armenia had their phone numbers noted and some were jailed.

The country’s gay rights record is also under scrutiny. Despite homosexuality being decriminalised in 2001, members of the LGBT community still suffer police harassment and homophobic violence.

Relations between Azerbaijan and neighbouring country Iran were tested after rumours of a ‘gay parade’ marred the build-up to the contest. Iran later recalled its ambassador to Azerbaijan, accusing the country of insulting its religious saints.