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by Dan Avery
Civil rights activists are reported on a brutal anti-LGBT crackdown in Azerbaijan that has seen dozens of people beaten, humiliated and arrested by authorities.
Police in Baku claim it’s part of an anti-prostitution campaign, but Civil Rights Defenders reports that over the past several days, at least 100 gay men and trans women have been indiscriminately arrested on the street, in bars, and even their homes.
Activists speaking with victims report they have been subject to verbal abuse, beatings, and forced medical examinations. (In addition, trans women’s heads have been forcibly shaved.) Many were only allowed to leave after providing names and addresses of other LGBT people.
Authorities insist police were simply responding to complaints about sex workers and drug trafficking in the area
“In our country, representatives of sex minorities have never been persecuted,” said a representative from the Ministry of Internal Affairs told Kavkaz. “However, this does not mean that they are exempt from liability for illegal actions. The police had to take measures in connection with the fact that recently people of non-traditional sexual orientation engaged in prostitution gather regularly in certain places in the center of the city in the evening and violate public order.”
Ayaz Efendiyev of the Justice Party has called for the raids to continue, and blames the West for attempting to destroy traditional values by “defending these creatures who are sources of immorality, dangerous diseases, and who have been cursed by God.”
The mostly Muslim nation ranked last among 49 European countries in the 2016 ILGA-Europe Rainbow Index, meeting only 5% of group’s the criteria to be considered LGBT-friendly.
The crisis in Azerbaijan comes barely five months after reports of dozens of arrests of gay men in Chechyna, another former Soviet republic.
Homosexuality has been legal in Azerbaijan since 2001, but there have been numerous hate crimes perpetrated against gay and trans people. What community does exist, in big cities like Baku, is completely underground.
In 2014, when word of activist Javid Nabiyev’s engagement to his boyfriend got out, the couple was targeted by a nationwide hate campaign. Nabiyev was accused of being a spy, routinely harassed and beaten by police, and eventually was forced to flee to Germany.
That same year an 18-year-old was reportedly set on fire by his parents after they discovered was gay.
“We’ve seen a lot of backlash in the region,” says IGLA director Bjorn van Roozendaal last year. “One common denominator is that Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, all want to distance themselves from the West and the LGBTI struggle has been at the center of that.”
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