The next Chechnya? Brutal LGBTI crackdown in Azerbaijan

There are alarming reports that dozens of LGBTI people have been arrested and forcibly medically tested in the Eurasian country of Azerbaijan.

According to ILGA-Europe, exact numbers are hard to confirm, but it believes that at least 50 members of the LGBTI community have been detained in raids that have taken place in the capital Baku throughout the second half of September.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs confirmed the police raids but claimed that the individuals were engaging in prostitution or “disrespecting the people around them”.

The ministry said that detainees had been forced to undergo medical examinations and that 16 people had been diagnosed with “AIDS or syphilis”.

The group Civil Rights Defenders said it received reports of at least 100 arrests of gay men and transgender women in raids on apartments and bars, as well as apparently random arrests on the street.

Activists from the former Soviet republic reported that detainees were subjected to beatings, verbal abuse, and forced medical examinations. Transgender women’s heads were also forcibly shaved.

Azerbaijan has a “near total absence of legal protection” for LGBTI people

A 19-year-old fashion designer told EurasiaNet.org that he was approached on 22 September by a stranger in the streets of Baku who said he wanted to take him to his apartment. When the victim confirmed that he was gay, another man appeared and he was bundled into a car and taken to the police station.

He was detained for 12 hours, forced to sign a document that he was not allowed to read and made to pay a fine, before being released. “The police warned me that next time they see me they’ll arrest me again,” the man said. “I’ve become paranoid, if someone is just looking at me, I’ll walk the other way.”

Speaking the APA news agency, a spokesman for the interior ministry stated: “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 behaviour, and also those whom police or health authorities believe to be carriers of infectious diseases.”

Evelyne Paradis, ILGA-Europe Executive Director, commented that attempts by the authorities in Azerbaijan to downplay these detentions were not convincing.

“Forcing any LGBTI people to be medically examined against their will is disturbing enough, but we also have received multiple reports of verbal and physical abuse,” said Paradis. “There is no justification for this indiscriminate targeting of people perceived to be members of the LGBTI community. It is a clear and serious breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

The reports are similar to the crackdown in Chechnya earlier this year that saw security forces rounding up and detaining gay men in secret facilities, where they were tortured and in some cases killed.

“ILGA-Europe are worried about the fate of the victims of these raids, and are calling for the immediate release of anyone still in detention,” said Paradis. “An independent investigation is now required, along with thorough monitoring of any subsequent trials.”

In ILGA-Europe’s annual review of the human rights of LGBTI people in 49 European nations, Azerbaijan was placed at the bottom of the 2017 rankings due to its “near total absence of legal protection”.

In 2014, Isa Shahmarli, the openly gay founder of LGBT rights group AZAD LGBT committed suicide by hanging himself with a rainbow flag. In a note he blamed society for his suicide.

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