Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2017-10-11
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

Azerbaijan: In Anti-Gay Crackdown Gay Men, Transgender Women Tortured
From a Human Rights Watch press release
2017-10-04

facebook twitter google +1 reddit email


( Berlin, October 3, 2017 ) — Police in Azerbaijan have conducted a violent campaign, arresting and torturing men presumed to be gay or bisexual, as well as transgender women, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch interviews with released detainees and lawyers confirmed that since mid-September, police in Baku, Azerbaijan's capital, have detained dozens of people on dubious charges, beating and using electric shocks on some of them to coerce bribes and information about other gay men. Government officials have not denied the crackdown, and have instead attempted to justify it on spurious morality and public health grounds.

On October 3, 2017, a lawyer representing some of the detainees told Human Rights Watch that on the evening of October 2, police began to release the detainees, and that by October 3, many had been released.

"The round-ups in Azerbaijan fit a familiar horrifying narrative that exploits so-called traditional values to justify violence against sexual and gender minorities," said Graeme Reid, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ( LGBT ) rights director at Human Rights Watch. "Authorities are targeting gay and bisexual men and transgender women using tactics that indicate an intent to continue, and widen, the crackdown."

A thorough independent investigation is warranted, and those responsible for arbitrary arrests and, in particular, for torture and other ill-treatment should be held accountable, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch interviewed five gay men, three of whom had been detained during the September 2017 round-ups, as well as human rights activists and lawyers representing dozens of detainees in various courts in Baku.

An October 2 joint statement by the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor General's Office confirmed that police detained 83 people in the round-ups. Lawyers Human Rights Watch spoke with confirmed the names of 45 gay and bisexual men, and transgender women, who were detained and sent by courts to up to 30 days' administrative detention in September, along with at least 10 others who were fined and released immediately. The lawyers said that the overwhelming volume of arrests means there are many cases they are unable to address or document. The media have reported unconfirmed accounts of up to 100 arrests.

Two of the men Human Rights Watch interviewed were detained in the Organized Crime Unit, known as Bandotdel, and reported that they were tortured. According to lawyers, during court hearings at least 34 other detainees described severe ill-treatment, including beatings, and said that police forced them to sign false statements. The lawyers said that police had shaved the heads of transgender women detainees.

The Azerbaijan government decriminalized same-sex conduct in 2000, but there are no officially registered or operational LGBT groups. The government also has a long record of using bogus charges to jail or fine government critics, whom police in some cases physically abuse in custody, Human Rights Watch said.

Lawyers representing people rounded up told Human Rights Watch that there were numerous procedural violations in their cases. Police pressured detainees to sign statements refusing the services of a lawyer, telling them that hiring a lawyer would only make their situation worse. The detainees were not allowed access to lawyers before and during their hearings, and were able to access lawyers only after they decided to appeal their administrative detention sentences.

Lawyers said that their clients were all charged with "disobeying police orders," an administrative offense that may result in a custodial sentence for up to 30 days. The October 2 joint statement by the Interior Ministry and Prosecutor General's Office said that some were arrested on charges of "petty hooliganism" for allegedly initiating arguments with people who declined solicitations for sex. It also said that 56 detainees were issued administrative detention sentences, while 18 others were fined and nine were issued warnings.

Administrative trials in Azerbaijan are perfunctory, rarely lasting longer than 15 minutes, and judges' decisions of guilt rely almost exclusively on police testimony. Although administrative offenses can and often do result in jail time, defendants in administrative trials are not guaranteed a lawyer of their choosing and they cannot mount an effective defense, Human Rights Watch said.

In addition, one of the lawyers said that while the official charge is listed as disobeying police orders, "In some written official materials at the police stations, I saw that police had written that these individuals were gay or transgender, and that they were arrested on sidewalks as they were shouting or arranging sex work." Sex work is illegal in Azerbaijan, but Human Rights Watch is not aware of any the detainees having been charged with this offense.

Lawyers said that the majority of the 45 detainees they have tracked were sentenced to between five and 20 days detention, but that some were sentenced to 30 days, and most have been fined the maximum amount under the disobedience charges, 200 ANZ ( US$117 ).

The October 2 joint statement said the roundups aimed to "identify individuals who offer paid intimate services to local citizens and foreign tourists in evenings in the central parts of the city... violate public order by insulting those who refuse these services and causing a dispute, as well as to check whether they are carriers of skin and venereal diseases."

On September 27, Ehsan Zahidov, spokesman for the Internal Affairs Ministry, said that police were responding to complaints from Baku residents that gay men were visible on the streets. Zahidov also sought to justify the Baku round-ups on public health grounds, claiming that the arrests were meant to "prevent dangerous contagious diseases from spreading." He claimed that gay men arrested were tested for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and syphilis.

The director of the AIDS Center of Azerbaijan, Natig Zulfugarov, said no tests were conducted there and that it would be against the law for the police to have such tests conducted without a court order. According to detainees' lawyers, police had not obtained such orders. Some of the detainees confirmed to their lawyers that they were taken to the Skin Diseases Dispensary, a small clinic in central Baku that is known for carrying out sexually transmitted infection tests, but not HIV tests.

A member of the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan is obligated to abide by the European Convention on Human Rights ban on discrimination — including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity — torture, and arbitrary detention. Azerbaijan is also a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which include similar obligations.

In addition, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has deemed that deprivation of liberty is arbitrary when it takes place "for reasons of discrimination based on…sexual orientation; or disability or other status, and which aims towards or can result in ignoring the equality of human rights." The Working Group has noted that police often round up LGBT people on the basis of their appearance alone, and urged governments to pay specific attention to avoid arbitrary arrests and detention of people based on their sexual orientation under laws that vaguely prohibit public indecency.

While the protection of public health is a legitimate interest of the state, it cannot justify the arbitrary detention of dozens of gay men and transgender women. Forcibly testing people for medical conditions violates international human rights standards.

"Official justifications for this anti-gay crackdown are as bogus and dangerous as the charges police have used to arrest people," Reid said. "The government's human rights and public health obligations mean they should focus on protecting and empowering this marginalized minority, not humiliating and isolating them."

For additional details and accounts of their treatment by the men interviewed, please see below.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Azerbaijan, please visit:

https://www.hrw.org/europe/central-asia/azerbaijan

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on LGBT rights, please visit:

https://www.hrw.org/topic/lgbt-rights

For more information, please contact:

In Johannesburg, Graeme Reid ( English ): +1-212-216-1288 ( office ); or +1-203-606-5847 ( mobile ); or reidg@hrw.org . Twitter: @Graemecreid

In Colombo, Kyle Knight ( English ): +1-917-794-6690 ( mobile ); or knightk@hrw.org . Twitter: @knightktm

In Tbilisi, Giorgi Gogia ( English, Georgian, Russian ): +995-577-42-12-35 ( mobile ); or gogiag@hrw.org . Twitter: @Giorgi_Gogia

In New York, Rachel Denber ( English, Russian, French ): +.917.916. 1266 ( mobile ); or denberr@hrw.org

Vicious Crackdown

In recent years, the government of Azerbaijan has waged an increasingly vicious crackdown on critics and dissenting voices. The space for independent activism, critical journalism, and opposition political activity has been virtually extinguished by the arrests and convictions of many activists, human rights defenders, and journalists, as well as by laws and regulations restricting the activities of independent groups and their ability to secure funding. Independent organizations and activists in Azerbaijan are struggling to survive.

In its 2016 review of Azerbaijan, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern about "discrimination and violence against persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, including within the family and by police and prison officials…and extortion of money from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in some police stations in return for not disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity."

There are no officially registered or operational LGBT groups, and the behavior of authorities in September 2017, both in targeting and justifying a crackdown on sexual minorities in the country, has decimated their hopes for basic security and survival.

Harassment and Arrests

One of the five gay men interviewed, "Ramin," who, like others interviewed, is identified by a pseudonym for their protection, told Human Rights Watch: "On September 19, my friend received a Whatsapp message that a gay guy, whom he did not know before, wanted to meet him to have sex. When he went to the agreed-upon place in the city center, he was taken away by police immediately."

"Vusal," a 27-year-old gay man, said: "On September 18, two people in plain clothes knocked on my door in the afternoon. It was the house where several of us gay guys lived together. The officers [pretended] they were repairmen who were to fix something. It was daytime, so I opened the door. They stormed in together with several other men and took me to the police station."

"Elgiz," a 21-year-old gay man in Baku told Human Rights Watch he was at his male partner's apartment alone on September 20 when the landlord knocked on the door. He could see from the window that a dozen men were standing in the yard below, so he decided not to answer the door. "Then suddenly I saw my partner knocking at the door," he said.

"He was handcuffed, and several men were holding him. I had no way out, so I opened the door." Ten plain-clothes officers entered the apartment and pushed Elgiz to the ground, punching and slapping him on the face, stomach, and back. "Both my partner and I were dragged away to police cars. They briefly searched the house and confiscated my computer, and took us to the Organized Crime Unit."

And "Taleh," a 26-year-old gay man said that on September 18, six plain-clothes officials demanded to see his and his friends' identification documents when they were sitting in central Baku's Fountain Square. "We had heard that there were some raids on gays, and I had ID with me, so I showed it," he said. "[An officer] looked very closely at my face and told me that I am gay." He was not arrested, but the officers took his three friends to a police station because they did not have their identity documents with them. He said that two were still being held as of September 29, while one was released after paying a fine for the disobedience charge.

Later that night, on his way home, Taleh encountered a group of police officers near his house. "They warned me that if I go to the city center or show up in public places, I will be immediately arrested," he said. "I asked the reasons. They said there was an order from the Interior Ministry, and they have to abide by this order."

Authorities appear to have gathered significant amounts of intelligence regarding presumed gay and bisexual men, their sexual partners, and possible sex work clients — both through past raids and surveillance, and the intensified campaign, carried out in September 2017. Detainees Human Rights Watch interviewed and others interviewed by the media reported that their interrogators took particular interest in gathering intelligence about wealthy sex work clients.

Elgiz said he was held from September 20 to 24 by the Organized Crime Unit: "Police identified one of my random partners through my phone that they confiscated. The police had read our communications in Whatsapp, and had seen photos of him. My gay partner was from a well-off family and rather rich. He was gay but hiding his sexual orientation from his family. I was shocked when police suddenly interrogated me about him. When I refused to acknowledge my relationship with him, police beat me on my face and I fell down. Police showed me my phone chats with him. I had no way to not admit that I know him. I later heard that he had paid police bribes so they would not tell his family about his sexual orientation."

"Sardar," whom authorities detained at the Organized Crime Unit for nine days starting on September 18, 2017, told Human Rights Watch: "[The officers] opened my phone and started to respond to my family's questions in Whatsapp about my whereabouts. My family did not know that it was the policemen writing back to them. Under the guise of my name, policemen were using foul language in their written chats with my family and others who were looking for me. From my phone, they reached some of my partners and some very respected [wealthy] gay persons, and they began to blackmail them [on the premise that] they had an affair with me."

Detention

Lawyers told Human Rights Watch that detainees were held at various police stations throughout Baku and at the Interior Ministry's Organized Crime Unit, and those whom courts had sentenced to detention were jailed at the Interior Ministry's Administrative Detention Center.

When Elgiz and his partner were taken to the Organized Crime Unit, he said, he recognized eight other gay men who were also held there. The men told him they had been detained on September 15 and 16, and held at a police station before they were transferred to the Organized Crime Unit.

Ramin, the 21-year-old man who does sex work, told Human Rights Watch that he escaped plain-clothes officers' attempt to arrest him and a friend while they were dressed as women soliciting sex work clients in Baku, on the evening of September 17. The next day, he went to a nearby police station in search of his friend, whom police had apprehended. He said: "Together with my friend there were 20-30 transgender and gay people at the station. One non-homosexual also had been brought to the station. Police pressed him to confess being a gay."

Torture and Extortion

Authorities held Elgiz and his partner at the Organized Crime Unit for four days, during which he was repeatedly interrogated, including with torture. "I was insistently asked if I am a sex worker…I denied it, as I never do such work," Elgiz said. "Other questions included if I have a boss who arranges sex business and if I know who collects money from this business. They asked if I pay bribes to any local police officers in the city."

Elgiz said the officers were not satisfied with his replies, so they tortured him: "I did not know anything to respond to such questions. Three policemen forced me to take my clothes off and took me to another room, where I was forced to sit and get shocked by electricity. There were some 10 policemen in that room. During a period of seven or eight minutes, they gave me electric shocks several times."

Police held Elgiz incommunicado for four days, never charged him, or allowed him to retain a lawyer. Before releasing him, Organized Crime Unit officers ordered Elgiz to work as an informant: "I was ordered to cooperate with police as an informer and regularly update police on gays, their gathering areas, and identify rich gays."

Sardar said that while he was detained, from September 18 to 27, officers beat him and used electric shock on him: "I was repeatedly beaten with truncheons on my legs, knees, and hands. I was electrocuted several times and each time they were insulting with bad words. My legs were almost burned after electroshocks. They not only electrocuted my head, but also hit me on my head with truncheons. It was very painful and there were many swollen and burn parts on my head. Still these spots from torture remain on my body."

"After the electroshock, I did not remember which names of other gay men I shared with them," he said. "I had no other way but to obey what police were ordering me to do. The pains were awful. I could also hear screams of other gay guys that were in that department. They were also tortured."

Ramin, described the men, including his friend, whom he saw detained in the police station: "When I arrived there, it was around 11 a.m., and none were given even water. They were so brutally beaten, their faces and bodies were bruised violet. My friend was beaten by baton, his phone in the pocket was broken in pieces."

Government Response

Azerbaijani authorities have not denied that gay men and transgender women in Baku have been rounded up in official raids beginning in mid-September. However, they have offered differing and conflicting reasons for the crackdown.

On September 27, Zahidov, the Internal Affairs Ministry spokesman, said in an interview with EurasiaNet that police were responding to complaints from residents in Baku that gay men were visible on the streets: "People complain that such people walk among us, walk in our streets, and sit in our cafés. These are people who do not fit our nation, our state, our mentality, please take action against them."

He was also quoted by the local APA news agency as saying that: "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 behavior, and also those whom police or health authorities believe to be carriers of infectious diseases."

Zahidov also employed a public health scare tactic, claiming that six of the detainees had tested positive for HIV, and of those, five also had syphilis. He maintained that, "[t]his once again proves that both our citizens' concerns and the actions we take about it are justified. It is important for the health of our people. Those who have diseases are being isolated from society."

The AIDS Center at the Azerbaijan Ministry of Health told reporters that they had not conducted HIV tests on any of the detainees, and the two former detainees Human Rights Watch interviewed said they were not subjected to any health tests. The AIDS Center director, Natig Zulfugarov, said that authorities needed a court order to conduct HIV tests. According to detainees' lawyers, however, the authorities had not obtained any for these cases so far.

The October 2 joint statement by the Interior Ministry and prosecutor's office repeated the claim that the round-ups were conducted for public order public health reasons, saying they aimed to "to bring to justice those have violated public order and to prevent dangerous contagious diseases from spreading." The statement also said that at the request of their lawyers, 32 detainees were "transferred to skin-venereal [testing centers]" and that "32 people who were not diagnosed with any venereal disease have been exempted from arrest." The lawyers Human Rights Watch spoke to said that their clients were sent to such dispensaries before they had access to their clients.


facebook twitter google +1 reddit email




Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

Justice Dept. steps in trans murder case 2017-10-16 - In an unusual move that Attorney General Jeff Sessions initiated, the Justice Department has dispatched an experienced federal hate-crimes lawyer to Iowa to ...


Gay News

Calif. Gov. signs non-binary gender ID bill 2017-10-16 - Sacramento—California Governor Jerry Brown on Sunday signed into law a bill making it easier to change gender markers on state-issued identification documents and ...


Gay News

After removing trans protection, Sessions seeks credit for DoJ work on hate crime 2017-10-15 - Lambda Legal Calls out Sessions' Hypocrisy as He Touts DOJ Assistance in Iowa Hate Crimes Case "For Sessions to seek credit for ...


Gay News

Lambda Legal fights for intersex citizen denied a U.S. passport 2017-10-13 - ( Denver, CO, October 10, 2017 ) — Lambda Legal returned to federal court today on behalf of Dana Zzyym, an intersex citizen ...


Gay News

Trans Teen Who Died By Suicide Protected By Federal Law, Federal Court Rules 2017-10-13 - ( San Diego, CA, October 13, 2017 )—Yesterday, the National Center for Lesbian Rights ( NCLR ) and Transgender Law Center ( TLC ...


Gay News

Bipartisan Legislation Introduced to Protect Trans Service Members 2017-10-13 - WASHINGTON, DC — Today, the American Military Partner Association ( AMPA ), the nation's largest organization of LGBT military families, praised members of ...


Gay News

Portage Park teen still missing 2017-10-13 - A transgender boy who went missing from their Portage Park nearly two weeks ago is still missing, according to reports. Kayleigh Green, ...


Gay News

Task Force: Trump is Trying to Single-Handedly Sabotage Health Care 2017-10-12 - WASHINGTON-DC: Today, President Trump signed an executive order that will decimate access to care for those who need it most. The following statement ...


Gay News

Attny Gen Madigan files brief to protect LGBTQ workers from discrimination 2017-10-12 - Chicago — Attorney General Lisa Madigan, along with 17 other attorneys general, today filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing ...


Gay News

Interfaith LGBTIQ leaders at UN to discuss Christian right, end of criminalization 2017-10-12 - New York, NY — On September 29, 2017, Yvette Abrahams, an indigenous religious leader from Cape Town, South Africa who served as the ...


 



Copyright © 2017 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 

 

 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS

Sponsor
Sponsor


 



Sponsor

About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group produces Windy City Queercast, & publishes Windy City Times,
The Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community,
Nightspots, Out! Resource Guide, and Identity.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.