Over the past week, police in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, have carried out mass arrests of LGBT people, particularly gay men and trans women.
Reports on Friday estimated that at least 100 people had been detained, although those numbers might have reached 200 now. The reports are eerily reminiscent of the news from Chechnya, another former Soviet state, regarding the persecution of gay and bisexual men.
Local authorities and government-friendly organisations, including NGOs, claim that the arrests are part of a crackdown on prostitution. “In our country, representatives of sexual minorities have never been persecuted. However, this does not mean that they are exempt from liability for illegal actions,” an official from the Interior Ministry said.
Human rights advocates say the homophobic campaign echoes recent violence in Chechnya. https://t.co/942oKIhWb3— INTO (@Into) September 26, 2017
However, local activists and lawyers have described the crackdown as indiscriminate, targeting gay men and transgender women in organised raids on bars and apartments. Officials have repeated claims that nearly all of those who were arrested were either diagnosed with multiple sexually transmitted diseases or in possession of narcotics, although they produced no evidence. Police are also allegedly blackmailing closeted LGBT people, threatening to publicly out them if they don’t act as witnesses in political cases.
Local rights groups have said that people with “non-traditional appearance” are being stopped and questioned on the street and have advised LGBT people against being outside after 23.00, to avoid walking in public without a member of the opposite sex, and not to respond to unexpected messages from unknown numbers or casual acquaintances.
“Activists report that the detainees were subjected to beatings, verbal abuse, and forced medical examinations, as well as transsexual women’s heads being forcibly shaven,” report the Civil Rights Defenders. “Many were released only after giving up the addresses of fellow members of the LGBT community, who were then in turn arrested and subjected to the same treatment.”
Samad Ismayilov, president of Minority Azerbaijan, explained the situation to Gay Star News, including anonymous testimony from a detained LGBTI person:
“They make others to talk and give them the addresses of their friends so they randomly come to your house and arrest you. Also, they arrested most of them for 20-30 days. And if you don’t give information about others, they call to your family (which is the worst) or beat you. Most of them were beaten, they shave transgender people’s head, and they humiliate them.”
He continued: “They treat you like you’re a murderer and they even arrested one of my friends who works at a bakery. They took him from his workplace. There are many others (I cannot say their names) stylists, translator, they took them from the club. We wrote a letter to the First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva already. Also my boyfriend and other friends are receiving several calls every day from random numbers asking them to meet – we are afraid that this is how police wants to arrest them.”
#BREAKING: At least 100 LGBTI people rounded up, tortured and humiliated in Azerbaijan, say eyewitness testimonies https://t.co/Z5IGeJSqYx pic.twitter.com/P4EYm0jRbX— GSN (@gaystarnews) September 23, 2017
Ayaz Efendiyev of the Justice Party – one of the opposition parties – has openly supported the actions, explaining that “defending these creatures who are sources of immorality, dangerous diseases, and who have been cursed by God, Western circles are trying to destroy our national traditions under the name of ‘human rights’.”
Azerbaijani press, who support the current regime, reiterated the official claims, with one outlet explaining that those detained were “infected with the most dangerous illnesses … including AIDS.” That a diagnosis of AIDS is deemed a legitimate reason for arrest is equally disturbing and nonetheless a violation of human rights.
“The reports of LGBTQ people in Azerbaijan being arrested and abused by authorities are deeply disturbing, much like the atrocities occurring against gay and bisexual men in nearby Chechnya,” Human Rights Campaign Global Director Ty Cobb has said. “It’s absolutely crucial that the Trump administration and the international community demand human rights abuses against LGBTQ people in the region immediately cease and those responsible be held accountable.”
The latest ILGA-Europe rating of 49 European countries based on LGBT+ rights placed Azerbaijan last, behind Russia.
We're extremely concerned by the reports from Azerbaijan and are working with activists to establish facts. https://t.co/KdagTl7QkS— ILGA-Europe (@ILGAEurope) September 26, 2017