Several LGBT Azerbaijanis have been arrested in Baku in what activists said was another coordinated raid on the community.
Information about the arrests remains murky, but Minority Azerbaijan, an advocacy group for LGBT Azerbaijanis, said in an April 2 statement that “police are trying to ‘hunt’ transgender people through the Internet.” The group identified more than a dozen people who were arrested, most of them transgender sex workers who were solicited and then arrested.
Sex work is illegal in Azerbaijan but is punishable only by administrative fines. Minority Azerbaijan reported that some of those arrested were charged with minor hooliganism and given sentences of 30 days in prison.
Advocates say that police in Azerbaijan regularly abuse other laws to target LGBT people.
"Police use bogus charges against transgender sex workers to de facto punish them for their behavior,” Samad Rahimli, a human rights lawyer in Baku, told Eurasianet. “Police in these cases act not with legitimate law enforcement interests but with a moral agenda.”
It was not possible to immediately clarify the official reasons for the detentions. Ehsan Zahidov, a spokesman for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, hung up the phone on Eurasianet upon being asked about the arrests.
The roundup recalled a larger series of raids in 2017, when at least 80 LGBT Azerbaijanis were arrested and held for several days. In that case, while some of those detained were sex workers, many were not. All were later released without being charged.
In February, the European Court of Human Rights began a formal inquiry into 25 people who were arrested in the 2017 raids, asking for written information from both the victims and the Azerbaijani government.
One of those arrested in 2017 was targeted in the more recent roundup. “I got a message on WhatsApp from a person with an Iraqi number,” the person told Eurasianet, on condition of anonymity. “He wrote in broken English and said that his mother is Azeri, and then he switched to writing in perfect Azeri. I made a video call to see who he is but he didn’t show himself. I tried several times to check his identity, at the end he wrote a very vulgar Azerbaijani swear word, which is rare to hear from a foreigner. I think it is a new wave of raids.”
In the 2017 raids, police justified the arrests by citing a danger of sexually transmitted diseases. In the more recent roundup, as well, many of the detainees were taken to Baku’s government STD clinic and forced to take medical tests. “We are forcibly brought to take medical checkups,” one of those arrested told Eurasianet. “There were two of us, police beat us and pushed us into the car.” The person was fined 50 manats (about $30) and released.
Another detainee spoke to Eurasianet from the 37th police station in Baku’s Khatai district. “Since yesterday I haven’t eaten anything, haven’t had anything to drink here in the police station,” she said. She said she had gone to the station to check on a friend whom she had heard was detained there and when she got to the station was arrested herself. She later was released after having been fined.
Durna Safarova is a freelance journalist who covers Azerbaijan.
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