“The police told me they would arrest me if they see me in the street again. Now I am afraid to leave my house.”
In a what The Guardian describes as a vicious crackdown, police in Azerbaijan have arrested over 60 gay and trans people, one of whom told the newspaper that he’d been beaten while in custody.
According to lawyer Samed Rahimli, this is not the first crackdown on LGBT people in the post-Soviet country, but it is by far the worst. Rahimli, who is helping coordinate legal representation for those still in detention, says he that he knows of 60 LGBT people who had been either sentenced to 20 days in jail or were fined. He added that many more people could have been caught up in the sweep but not formally charged.
Eskhan Zakhidov, a spokesman for the country’s interior ministry, denied that the arrests targeted LGBT people, telling the local APA news agency: “These raids are not against all sexual minorities. The arrested are people who demonstratively show a lack of respect for those around them, annoy citizens with their behaviour, and also those whom police or health authorities believe to be carriers of infectious diseases.”
The Guardian has been in communication with three gay men who say they were caught up in the wave of arrests. None of them wanted their names disclosed and all said they were currently in hiding. One of the men said he had been beaten in a police station and released after being made to pay a 150 manat (£65) fine. “The police told me they would arrest me if they see me in the street again. Now I am afraid to leave my house,” he said.
Another claimed he was approached in a Baku nightclub by police who said they were conducting a search for LGBT people. All three said they had friends currently in detention, and added that police carrying out sweeps of the city searching for people who “look gay”.
Homosexuality is not illegal in Azerbaijan, but topic of homosexuality is taboo and last year’s ILGA-Europe Rainbow Index ranked it the worst place in Europe to be gay.
The crackdown has echoes of a program against gay men in Chechnya earlier this year, in which special prisons were set up to detain and torture in.
Boris Dittrich, of the LGBT rights programme at Human Rights Watch, told The Guardian that the organisation was aware of reports about the events in Baku and was still trying to confirm them. He called for a “thorough and independent investigation” into the reports.
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