More than 50 gay and transgender people in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, were detained and abused in a series of raids over the past week, lawyers and rights activists said. The Azerbaijani government said the raids were prompted by multiple complaints from local residents, who had urged the police to crack down on the illegal sex trade in central Baku, a city of more than two million.
However, lawyers and activists said that most of those detained were not engaged in prostitution and that the accusations were used as a pretext for persecution. Samed Rahimli, a lawyer assisting the victims, said the police had “targeted homosexuals in general, not prostitutes as they have claimed.”
“The detained were subjected to inhuman treatment and torture,” he said. “Their heads were shaved, some were electroshocked.”
Lawyers and activists said that sexual minorities have been harassed in the past, but that the latest raids were without recent precedent. Speaking to the local APA news agency on Tuesday, Ekhsan Zakhidov, a spokesman for the Azeri Interior Ministry, said the raids were “justified.”
“People, infected with AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases pose a threat to lives and health of young people, who get in contact with them,” said Mr. Zakhidov, claiming that 16 of those arrested had AIDS or syphilis. This claim could not be independently confirmed.
The crackdown elicited comparisons to tactics seen in the Chechnya region of Russia, where dozens of gay men were detained, and in some cases tortured and some killed, in a crackdown in April.