Near the end of September 2017, the world heard reports of police raids around the Middle Eastern country of Azerbaijan. The raids resulted in the arrest, detainment and torture of dozens of gay and transgender people under the pretense of them being drug dealers and sex workers. Now, two anonymous survivors of the torture have stepped forward to share their ordeals.
First, some background on the raids: A Sept. 22, 2017 video message posted by Javid Nabiyev, president of the Nefes LGBT Azerbaijan Alliance, claimed that police had raided private homes and public places popular among gay people. Nabiyev added that the police had forced detainees to give up contact info on their LGBTQ associates and forbade access to any lawyers and family members.
Nabiyev has since issued several follow-up videos including the one below featuring updates on the detainees. Detainees reported that police kept them in small over-crowded cells with about 18 other people. One trans woman says that airport police prevented her from leaving the country. Another straight man rounded up in the raids said that police electrocuted him when he denied being gay.
Two accounts from Azerbaijan detainees
In an interview with Radio Free Europe (RFE), one man who alleged serious abuse at the hands of police said that he was held for nine days:
They made me sign documents that were already filled in and also blank documents. I didn’t know what they were about. Then they asked if ‘clients’ I am seeing are wealthy. I told them I am not seeing clients, I’m just gay. They gave me electric shocks. They beat me with a stick on my knees. I couldn’t move afterwards.
Another survivor (a woman) told RFE, “Since this happened, wherever I go, the first thing I do is to look around to see if the people from the police station are there, or people are behaving suspiciously, because they could be police as well. I feel afraid if someone stares at me.”
The United Nations Human Rights Office called on the country to stop its “arbitrary arrests,” citing allegations of beatings, humiliation, electric shocks and forced shaving by authorities. The shaving allegedly occurred against transgender women, cutting their hair to humiliate and dehumanize them.
The Sweden-based human rights group Civil Rights Defenders claims to have anonymously spoken to Baku activists, and released a statement that said, “Police are also reportedly blackmailing several closeted LGBTI people for use as witnesses in politically motivated cases, threatening to publicly out them if they do not comply.”
RFE says that all 80 of the LGBTQ people who had been detained have since been released, but they also say that the number of people detained is far higher than what the police had officially reported, leaving it unclear how RFE or anyone else can be sure that all detainees have actually been released.
Although Azerbaijan repealed its Soviet-era anti-sodomy laws in 2000, gay men in the country still find it difficult to come out amid publicized abuse of gay sex workers by police. In 2016, ILGA-Europe (the European arm of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) ranked Azerbaijan last among 49 European countries in terms of LGBTQ protections and equality.
Featured image by stevanovicigor via iStock