Azerbaijan has launched a brutal crackdown on its LGBTQ community, indiscriminately arresting more than 100 people and subjecting many to violence in detention, activists say.
Citing accounts from local lawyers and activists, the Sweden-based Civil Rights Defenders organization reported that police in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital city, have been conducting raids on gay men and transgender women in bars and apartments, and carrying out apparently arbitrary arrests on the street in recent days.
Activists reported that those arrested faced beatings and forced medical examinations, while transgender women had had their heads shaved. Some have apparently been forced to give up the addresses of their friends, creating a climate of fear among the LGBTI community.
Azerbaijani officials have admitted the raids, but deny that they are targeting the LGBTQ community indiscriminately. Instead they say they are targeting people accused of prostitution, or who are suspected of having “diseases.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Eskhan Zakhidov told the local APA news agency: “These raids are not against all sexual minorities. The arrested are people who demonstratively show a lack of respect for those around them, annoy citizens with their behavior, and also those whom police or health authorities believe to be carriers of infectious diseases.”
At least one politician, Ayaz Efendiyev of the opposition Justice Party, has spoken out in support of the raids, saying: “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.’”
Samed Rahimli, a Baku-based lawyer who is defending some of those arrested, told the Guardian that the raids were bigger and more systematic than previous crackdowns in Azerbaijan. Javid Nabiyev, president of the Nefes LGBT Azerbaijan Alliance, told Pink News that the raids had sparked widespread fear in the LBGTQ community. “Everybody has a fear that they might be arrested at any time.”
Homosexuality has been legal since 2000 in the former Soviet republic of about 10 million people. But LGBTQ people in Azerbaijan face widespread prejudice and discrimination – last year it was ranked equal with Russia and Armenia in a survey as the worst place in Europe to live as an LGBTQ person, due to the prevalence of homophobic and transphobic violence, as well as hateful comments from politicians.
The arrests in Azerbaijan have echoes of the recent crackdown on gay men in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya, in which many people claimed they were rounded up and tortured.