Police in Azerbaijan are arresting more LGBT people every day, say activists, with abuse, beatings and forced anal exams par for the course.
Up to 100 gay men and transgender women have been detained in Baku, according to Javid Nabiyev of the Nefes LGBT Azerbaijan Alliance. Many were only allowed to leave after providing names and addresses of others.
“In the beginning it was just sex workers who got arrested, and then day by day the arrests grew and others got arrested,” said Nabiyev, who now lives in Germany. “Some people have already left the country. Most of them are going to Georgia or Turkey, because we don’t need a visa.”
Authorities insist police are simply responding to complaints about sex workers and drug trafficking.
On Sunday, the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry issued a statement stating that 83 people were arrested in raids dating from September 15 to September 30, because “[of] offers of sexual services to locals and tourists.”
“Representatives of sex minorities have never been persecuted,” the ministry claimed earlier. “However this does not mean that they are exempt from liability for illegal actions.”
In all, the ministry maintains that 56 of those arrested were detained, 32 of whom were sent for treatment for “various venereal diseases,” including six who were suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Human-rights groups say the anti-gay purge in Chechnya has emboldened homophobes in other nearby Muslim countries.
“People are effectively on the lookout for gays. They’re whispering behind his back, ’What about his hairstyle, what about his clothes, is there a possibility?'” said Human Rights Watch’s Tanya Lokshina. “It’s not something that was likely to happen before the purge [in Chechnya], when the issue was taboo. But it’s extremely dangerous for gay people there now.”
Ayaz Efendiyev of the Justice Party has called for the raids to continue, and blames the West for “defending these creatures who are sources of immorality, dangerous diseases, and who have been cursed by God.”
Homosexuality is not illegal in Azerbaijan, but LGBT people are still ostracized. The country ranked last among 49 European countries in the 2016 ILGA-Europe Rainbow Index. In 2014, when word of Nabiyev’s engagement to his boyfriend got out, the couple was targeted by a nationwide hate campaign.
That same year an 18-year-old was reportedly set on fire by his parents after they discovered he was gay.
“We’ve seen a lot of backlash in the region,” says IGLA director Bjorn van Roozendaal last year. “One common denominator is that Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, all want to distance themselves from the West and the LGBTI struggle has been at the center of that.”