Forty-eight people are currently being held in administrative detention in Azerbaijan following a crackdown on the LGBTQ community by police.
These prisoners were denied a fair trial and the right to choose their own legal counsel, according to a Thursday report from Amnesty International. The human rights group describes the sentencing, which was not made accessible to the public, as a kangaroo court. After being accused of “resisting the police’s legitimate orders,” the defendants were found guilty of all charges “without any further evidence.”
Authorities have claimed that the anti-LGBTQ sting operation, in which detainees were allegedly beaten and tortured, was not motivated by the sexual orientation of the accused. They say it was intended to target prostitution in the capital of Baku.
A representative from the Azerbaijani Ministry of Internal Affairs told media that the arrests were a result of numerous complaints from local residents, claiming that the detainees had not been “respecting others around them.” He said that those apprehended by authorities posed a risk to public health, alleging that a majority are HIV-positive and could spread the virus to other people.
The arrests were made to “protect national moral values,” an anonymous official added in an interview with the Caucasian Knot, a local newspaper.
Human rights activists tell a very different story. Javid Nabiyev, president of Nefes LGBT Azerbaijan Alliance, claims in a Facebook video that the LGBTQ community is “confused” and afraid they “might be arrested [at] anytime on the street.”
“Even existence of this fear is a big problem,” he continues.
Tarah Demant, director of the gender, sexuality, and identity program at Amnesty International, also questions the account provided by Azerbaijani official. She tells INTO in an email that the raids were “a thin veneer for criminalizing LGBTQ people for simply beingor appearing to beLGBTQ.”
“These raids, arrests, and ‘convictions’ seem to be specifically targeted at LGBTQ people simply because of their identity,” she claims.
Although homosexuality is legal in the majority Muslim nation, Azerbaijan has an extremely volatile relationship with its LGBTQ community. In 2015, ILGA’s yearly “Rainbow Europe” report ranked the country of 10 million people as the worst for queer and trans rights on the continent. It placed lower than Armenia and Russia.
Many advocates have compared the assault on Azerbaijan’s LGBTQ community to Chechnya, where gay men were rounded up and placed into concentration camps earlier this year in a campaign to “exterminate” them. Reports from Baku allege that detainees have been forced to hand over the names of other LGBTQ community members or authorities will out them to their families. Transgender women have had their heads forcibly shaved following arrest.
Human rights groups have called upon police to release the LGBTQ prisoners immediately, but politicians appear unmoved by the criticism.
“Defending these creatures, who are sources of immorality, dangerous diseases and who have been cursed by God, Western circles [are] trying to destruct of our national traditions under the name of ‘human rights,’” Ayaz Efendiyev, a representative of the country’s Justice Party, has said.