Last week, Azerbaijani queer rights activist Javid Nabiyev posted a video on Facebook, in which he revealed that a series of police raids disproportionately aimed at LGBTQ+ people had been carried out in Baku, the country’s capital, over a series of days.
“So many people have contacted me about the arrests, so I decided to make a video with all the information that I have for now,” he said, before revealing that friends and victims had reached out to say they had been beaten, threatened with penalties and forced to have their heads shaven. Reports vary, but most agree that at least 50 LGBTQ+ people have been detained, with some sources claiming more than 100.
In the days since the video was released, Nabiyev has been busy compiling a comprehensive report on the situation in more detail, which Dazed has since requested and obtained.
Alongside legal information, the report features statements (given anonymously) from a handful of victims. One is a trans woman who said police beat her so badly that there was “almost no unharmed spot” left on her body. Another, who self-identifies as a feminine gay man, reveals that he was beaten until he lost consciousness during his two-day detention. Officers also used threat tactics to gain the contact details of the friends of victims, and have since created fake social media profiles to lure in new victims.
It had already been reported that the MIA (Ministry of Internal Affairs) had responded to pressure by activists in the country, explaining that the raids were not a specific attack on LGBTQ people, but sex workers. “In our country, sex minority members have never been persecuted,” an insider linked to the MIA said to online news site Caucasian Knot.
This is not strictly true. Same-sex sexual activity was legalised in 2000, but reports of queer people – particularly gay male sex workers – being beaten and abused in police custody were still being reported just a year later. Index on Censorship also reports frequently that journalists – particularly independent, investigative journalists – are still subjected to heavy censorship and, in extreme cases, torture and abduction. This work is needed to uncover injustice, particularly because legislation largely ignores the existence of LGBTQ+ people. There are no laws to protect minorities from hate crimes or discrimination in the workplace, whereas reports of trans people being denied access to healthcare have been reported. It is still not possible to legally change the gender marker on official documentation.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs may be arguing that this isn’t an LGBTQ-specific crackdown, but it is. The first, most obvious sign is that their press officer is content to release statements saying that residents had complained “that such people walk around us, walk in our streets and sit in our cafés. ‘These are people who do not fit our nation, our state, our mentality.” Read more via Dazed