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2023, 28 May, bazar, Bakı vaxtı 19:44

Pro-Government TV In Baku Red-Faced After Fake-Fan Fail

In its report the Azerbaijani TV station named the "foreigner" as "James Bonar" and said he was an "English tourist" who was attending this month's European Games in Baku.

A privately run, pro-government television station in Baku claims it was duped by a local man who "misrepresented himself as a foreigner" at the European Games in Azerbaijan this week in order to create a "provocation."

The statement from Lider TV comes amid allegations that Azerbaijan's government has hired locals to pretend they are foreign sports fans at the first-ever European Games in order to bolster the image of the competition as a successful international event.

A Lider TV report on purported foreign fans went viral on social media in Azerbaijan after Meydan TV -- an independent, Germany-based online TV channel -- identified a man interviewed for the story as Seymur Seferov, a displaced Azerbaijani citizen from the Jebrail region near Nagorno-Karabakh.

In the report, Lider TV named the man as "James Bonar" and said he was an "English tourist" who was attending this month's European Games in Azerbaijan.

Seferov began his English-language interview by telling Lider TV: "I am coming from London, but I live here now."

WATCH: Seymur Seferov's TV Interview (no subtitles)

However, Lider TV's voiceover translation into Azeri said only, "I am coming from London" -- omitting Seferov's statement that he is a resident of Azerbaijan before including his praise for the beauty of the country.

Elnur Fitaliev, the head of Lider TV's social and cultural department, was quoted by the website as saying: "In this interview, we should not blame the person who was a reporter, but the man who wanted to make this provocation. At these international events, journalists are working on a tight schedule. Who could expect somebody would do something like this? He purposely misrepresented himself as a foreigner and then he was the one who later posted his real name on this [online version]of this video. He tried to achieve something."

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev's government has spent at least $10 billion preparing to host the 2015 European Games.

The June 12 opening ceremony alone cost the government about 100 million manats, or about $95 million -- more than twice the cost of London's $42 million, 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony.

But the government in Baku has rejected criticism of the cost by arguing that the competition establishes Azerbaijan as an integral part of Europe and a destination for tourists from the European Union.

Human rights campaigners have used the international spotlight on Baku to highlight the arrests of journalists and the arbitrary detention of opposition activists in Azerbaijan.

There are some 6,000 athletes in attendance at the inaugural European Games, which are governed by the European Olympic Committees and correspond to other Olympic run-up events like the Asian Games, Pacific Games, and Pan-American Games.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Ron Synovitz, Meydan TV, and