Mass Arrests and Abuse of LGBT People in Azerbaijan

Over the last several days, police in Baku, Azerbaijan carried out mass arrests of at least 100 members of the LGBT community. In official statements, local authorities and government-friendly NGOs described the arrests as a crackdown on prostitution, but lawyers and local activists describe indiscriminate arrests of gay men and transgender women in organised raids on apartments and bars, as well as seemingly random arrests on the street.

LGBT Azerbaijan
An Azerbaijani flag at an LGBT pride parade in Germany in 2015. The Baku police has reportedly carried out mass arrests of at least 100 members of the LGBT community over the past days. (photo: Ghvinotsdaati, Wikimedia Commons).

Determining the exact number of arrests has been difficult, as many of the detained have been denied access to visitors or arrested multiple times, and those who have been released have not wished to speak with anyone outside of the local LGBT community out of fear of further punishment. Several detainees have provided information on condition of anonymity to Civil Rights Defenders via local activists and lawyers.

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. 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. An undetermined number of those detained have been sentenced to either 20 or 30 days of administrative detention.

Police are also reportedly blackmailing several closeted LGBT people for use as witnesses in politically motivated cases, threatening to publicly out them if they do not comply.

In the past, Azerbaijani security services have used administrative detention, which does not require a public hearing prior to sentencing, and isolating detainees from outside contact to prevent the reliable documentation of physical torture.

In public statements, officials have repeatedly, and without evidence, insisted that nearly all who were detained were diagnosed with multiple sexually transmitted diseases or were in possession of narcotics at the time of their arrest.

Government-friendly Azerbaijani press has amplified these claims, with one site claiming the detainees were “infected with the most dangerous illnesses … including AIDS.” a popular discussion websitegleefully shared early reports of the arrests under the headline “Hunting season on gays is open!”

One opposition party is on record supporting the mass arrests: Ayaz Efendiyev of the Justice Partycalled for the operations to continue, adding, “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.”

Contrary to official statements that police targeted only sex workers in downtown Baku, police have reportedly been detaining anyone whose appearance does not correspond with “national traditional values.”

Azerbaijan ranked last among 49 European countries in the 2016 ILGA-Europe Rainbow Index, a survey of legal protections and equality. Although homosexuality was decriminalized in Azerbaijan in 2001, LGBT people have regularly faced harassment from security services and received little public sympathy.

Civil Rights Defenders calls upon the government of Azerbaijan to cease the harassment of Baku’s LGBTI community, and for its fellow member states in the Council of Europe to hold it to its international commitments to the European Convention on Human Rights.

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