[This article originally appeared on The Alternative Daily here.]
Disturbing reports are coming out of Baku, Azerbaijan, where gay, lesbian and transgender citizens are being rounded up by police, beaten and handed jail terms. At least 46 people have already been arrested and face 10 to 30 days in jail for resisting police.
Javid Nabiyev, president of the Nefes LGBT Azerbaijan Alliance, gave a report on the police raid for the group’s Facebook page. "Everybody [has] fear that they might be arrested anytime on the street," Nabiyev said.
In the video, Nabiyev describes how people have been targeted by police in the streets, subway stations, LGBTQ-friendly bars or in their own apartments, then forced to undergo medical evaluations. "Many were released only after giving up addresses of fellow members of the LGTB community, who were then in turn arrested and subjected to the same treatment," said the report.
Nabiyev goes on to say that the Interior Ministry is defending their actions and that these measures were carried out in the “framework to protect moral values.” In fact, one political official gave a supportive statement to the local media, saying that the LGBTQ citizens are a “source of immorality, dangerous diseases, and who have been cursed by God” and that “Western circles [are] trying to destruct our national traditions under the name of human rights.”
Another victim of the raids, identified only as “Hasan,” described getting beaten and accused of being a sex worker by police:
"The door was beaten on the 20th of September, we did not open the door, and after half an hour our friend, who was now in prison, called by phone. Then the door was knocked again. When I watched on peephole I saw my friend handcuffed, and some policemen. They took my friend and we were captured too. They were beating me. The police told me that I'm doing prostitution and I must give them information about clients. I said I'm not a sex worker."
Gulnara Mehtiyeva from the Minority Azerbaijan organization told The Associated Press that the arrests started on September 18, and they are “the most extensive raids against representatives of sexual minorities in our country." In Azerbaijan, homosexuality was decriminalized in 2000, yet intolerance towards the LGBTQ community is still strong.
Government says it’s because of STDs
Ehsan Zahidov, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the arrests were sparked by citizen complaints of “disrespect.” Zahidov said, “Of the detained sexual minorities, 16 showed AIDS or syphilis. They are giving sexual services with two or three people a day, spreading the infection.”
However, activists and lawyers working with detainees have a different story to tell. "Not a single one of the cases that I studied is related to sex-industry workers. So this is not a raid against sex-industry workers," said investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova on Current Time TV, a Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with Voice of America.
Social media users feel helpless
As the news spreads across the world, social media users have taken to Twitter to share the latest reports and express concern, but many simply don’t know how to help on a large scale.
Over 100 gay and transgender people are being arrested and tortured in Azerbaijan. Why is no one talking about this pic.twitter.com/T169SAmQND
— Kait 🌈 (@itzzkait) September 27, 2017
— HumanRightsCampaign (@HRC) September 25, 2017
— Tom Knight (@TJ_Knight) September 23, 2017
— PK Creedon (@PK514) September 26, 2017
— GSN (@gaystarnews) September 23, 2017
— Stonewall (@stonewalluk) September 28, 2017
How to help LGBTQ people in Azerbaijan
With the power of the internet, there are several ways that you can help LGBTQ people in Azerbaijan:
Spread this news
Sign this Change.org petition
Donate to ILGA Europa to support activists and human rights groups on the ground
Follow Nefes LGBT Azerbaijan Alliance for the latest updates on the situation in Azerbaijan
Being gay is still punishable by death in some places
The number of countries banning same-sex partnerships has declined in the last decade — down from 96 to 72 — but it’s still considered a crime around the world, often punishable by death. According to a report released by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), eight countries permit the death penalty for same-sex activity, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen and Sudan. Additionally, at least 25 countries around the world ban the formation of LGBTQ rights groups.
-- Hilary Lebow