The Azerbaijani police arrested at least 80 gay and transgender people over the past two weeks. According to a statement of the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry and Prosecutor-General’s Office, the arrested are accused of offering ‘’sexual services’’ to multiple locals and tourists, thereby ‘’spreading the infection’’. The recent police raids would be part of a campaign to fight prostitution and to ‘’protect national moral value’’, in response to citizens’ complaints of ‘’disrespect to others’’. Local activists and human rights groups contest the statement of the Azerbaijani authorities, however, saying the detentions are part of a state crackdown against the LGBT community.
Confusion and fear
Much of the situation with respect to the detainees remains unclear, however. The number of arrested LGBT people varies between 50 and 100. The Interior Ministry and Prosecutor-General’s Office said 56 gay people were held for various periods of time. 18 detainees were fined for resisting the police, and 9 people were only warned. None of them would currently be in jail. Amnesty International said at least 100 people were captured by police officers. ‘’Clearly, LGBT community representatives were exclusively targeted in this raid and this was a blatant intimidation attempt by the authorities,’’ the organisation said. The Interior Ministry denies that the police particularly targeted sexual minorities. Amnesty International has urged the Azerbaijani government to release the detainees immediately.
LGBT people were arrested in subway stations, private homes, pubs, and LGBT-friendly clubs in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, according to local activists. Javid Nabiyev, head of Nefes LGBT Azerbaijan Alliance, said in a Facebook video the detainees were forced to give the names of other gay and transgender people they knew. This was also claimed by Civil Rights Defenders, a human rights group based in Sweden. An Azerbaijani man wrote on the Facebook group of Nefes LGBT Azerbaijan Alliance: ‘They were beating me. The police told me I'm doing prostitution work and I must give them information about clients.’
‘’Everybody have fear that they might be arrested anytime on the street (…) people are confused,’’ Nabiyev said in his Facebook video. According to him, the recent manhunt for LGBT community is a response to some right-wing political leaders who called for a crackdown on gay and transgender people.
Circumstances in prison
The circumstances in jail are quite unclear. The British gay-rights group Stonewall alleged some transsexual women had their heads forcibly shaven. Several suspects were sentenced up to 20 days in jail, after being subjected to forced medical examination, and physical and verbal abuse, lawyers for some detainees claimed. Human Rights Watch (HRW) also expressed its concerns with respect to the situation of the detainees. ‘’Obviously, we are extremely concerned about those serious allegations of detentions, abuse, and forced medical testing, and they need to be thoroughly investigated,’’ South Caucasus director of HRW said.
Daniel Holtgen, Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, said in a statement: ‘’This discrimination against sex and other minorities is contrary to the European Convention of Human Rights’’. The rights of LGBT people must be respected by the Azerbaijani government. Co-rapporteur for the monitoring of Azerbaijan by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Stefan Schennach, said the assembly will investigate the recent reports. In 2015, the European Parliament already condemned ‘’the intimidation and repression’’ of LGBT people in Azerbaijan, after several homophobic incidents.
Azerbaijan is one of the worst countries to live in for LGBT people, according to a recent survey by the international advocate group ILGA. Although homosexual activity was legalised in 2000, gay people still experience much discrimination in the former Soviet country. Public humiliations befall many of the LGBT community. Conservative nationals consider homosexuality as a disease and gay people would be ‘cursed by God’. The transfer of 32 detainees to a ‘’treatment centre’’ for ‘’various venereal diseases’’ (including aids) as stated by the government, indicates this all the more.