Outcry as Azerbaijan police launch crackdown on LGBT community
At least 60 people have been imprisoned or fined after a spate of raids in the capital, Baku
Authorities in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, have begun a vicious crackdown on the city’s LGBT community, according to activists in the country. Reports suggest that over the past 10 days dozens of gay and trans people have been arrested. One person the Guardian contacted said he had been beaten in police custody.
Homosexuality is legal in the oil-rich, post-Soviet country, but a survey released last year by a rights organisation ranked Azerbaijan as the worst of 49 European countries in which to be gay.
“There have been previous crackdowns on LGBT people, but this one is much bigger, with systematic and widespread raids,” said Samed Rahimli, a Baku-based lawyer who is helping coordinate legal defences for those who have been detained.
Rahimli said he was aware of 60 cases of LGBT people who had been either sentenced to 20 days’ imprisonment or fined as part of the recent crackdown. Those currently in jail were charged with resisting police orders. “This is a common charge used in Azerbaijan for arbitrary arrests.” He said many more people could have been caught up in the sweep but not formally charged.
Azerbaijani authorities denied that the roundup targeted all LGBT people. Eskhan Zakhidov, a spokesman for the country’s interior ministry, 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 behaviour, and also those whom police or health authorities believe to be carriers of infectious diseases.”
Zakhidov did not clarify what might count as annoying behaviour or a lack of respect. Other officials have said the raids did not target LGBT people specifically but were instead aimed at people engaged in prostitution, and were launched after complaints from local residents.
The Guardian exchanged written messages with three gay men who said they had been caught up in the wave of arrests. None of them wanted their names disclosed and all said they were currently in hiding in Azerbaijan. One of the men said he had been beaten in a police station and released after being made to pay a 150 manat (£65) fine. “The police told me they would arrest me if they see me in the street again. Now I am afraid to leave my house,” he said.
Another said he was approached in a Baku nightclub by police who said they were conducting a search for LGBT people. All three said they had friends currently in detention, and reported police carrying out sweeps of the city searching for people who “look gay”. Their stories could not be independently verified but chime with the testimony of local lawyers and rights activists.