A persecuted gay couple in Azerbaijan have gone into hiding after a video of the two kissing was shared widely online.
Last Valentine’s day, 27 year-old Ravan Nasimi bought his 20 year-old boyfriend Alvi Aghabeyov a cake to celebrate the festivity. The gift was a surprise, and the couple shared a short kiss that was caught on video by a friend.
The couple later uploaded said video to Facebook under the belief that only close friends and immediate family members would be able to see it.
However, the morning after it was uploaded, the gay couple were warned by friends that conservative groups were sharing the video on Facebook and Instagram and they were quickly persecuted.
Both of them received death threats, and some online commenters even said they’d offer cash rewards for their murder. To make matters worse, the police decided not to get involved in the incident.
Azerbaijan does not have any hate crime legislation or similarly any laws which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), Azerbaijan is ranked as the lowest country in Europe for LGBT+ rights.
Nasimi told VICE that “Ravan’s uncles and aunts were calling his mom and telling them, ‘He’s dishonouring our family’s name. Why don’t you control him?'”
Messages on social media were shared revealing information about where the couple could be found. Aghabeyov was fired while his boyfriend was put on leave and apparently told to quit.
Due to the abuse, the men rarely leave their apartment anymore. They live in Azerbaijan’s second biggest city, Ganja, which has a population of over 330,000 people.
“I’ve lost weight because I’m scared and depressed,” Nasimi said. When the couple do venture outside, they hide their identities. Even simple tasks are now a challenge – a local bakery which they use to frequent even refused to sell them any bread.
With little legal protections, this has become their new normal. They haven’t been the only victims of anti-LGBT+ discrimination in the country though.
ILGA-Europe are extremely concerned about the #detention of at least 14 community members in #Azerbaijan. The persons, perceived by the police as #trans and #gay, were arrested on 1 April due to their alleged sex work and forced to test their #HIV / STI status. pic.twitter.com/dDa0uoQs6E
— ILGA-Europe (@ILGAEurope) April 3, 2019
Back in April 2019, there was a wave of arrests against LGBT+ people according to the ILGA. At least eight gay men and trans people were detained by police in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku.
They were lured into a meeting by an undercover police officer. Only a few days after that, seven more were arrested – some of them even being detained in their own homes. Many of those arrested were also forced to undergo an STI test.
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