Nearly 100 LGBTQ people have been arrested and tortured in Azerbaijan following a crackdown many have compared to the anti-gay purge in Chechnya.
Police in the capital of Baku have been targeting community members there under the pretense of an anti-prostitution campaign, as the European advocacy group Civil Rights Defenders reports. In addition to rounding up queer and trans people on the street, the organization claims LGBTQ folks have been victimized in their homes.
Those taken into custody “were subjected to beatings, verbal abuse, and forced medical examinations,” the organization states in a press release. Police allegedly shaved the heads of transgender detainees.
The Azerbaijan government dismissed the reports in an interview with Kavkaz, a local publication reporting on news in the Caucasus region.
“In our country, representatives of sex minorities have never been persecuted,” claims an anonymous official representing the Ministry of Internal Affairs. “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.”
Some legislators called for further raids, claiming that criticism of police brutality was an attack on the country’s values.
Ayaz Efendiyev, deputy chairman of the left-leaning Justice Party, accused LGBTQ rights advocates of “defending these creatures who are sources of immorality, dangerous diseases, and who have been cursed by God.” He added that Westerners were attempting to “destroy our national traditions.”
Azerbaijan, which is 98 percent Muslim, ranked dead last in a 2016 report from ILGA on safest European countries for LGBTQ people. Sandwiched between Iran and Chechnya, it ranked lower than on the index than Russia.
Although homosexuality was decriminalized in 2001, LGBTQ people have few rights in the country of just 10 million people. Queer and trans people are not permitted to adopt children or serve in the armed forces, and the community is subject to frequent persecution. ILGA notes that LGBTQ individuals are “killed, forced to live a double life, commit suicide, or leave the country.”
Human rights advocate Javid Nabiyev fled with his fiancee to Turkey after the couple announced their engagement in 2014, although he has since returned. After their information was published online, the two men were threatened and harassed.
A gay teenager was forced into hiding in 2014 after his parents saw a photo of him attending a Pride parade and set him on fire.
The persecution of LGBTQ people in the Caucasus became a topic of international controversy earlier this year when Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov vowed to eliminate the Russian province’s queer and trans population. At least 100 men were arrested, beaten, and placed into concentration camps. At least three detainees have been killed and many remain missing.