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Azerbaijan: The Government Must Stop Pursuing the Most Vulnerable Members of its Society
In response to the detention of recently released political prisoners and a new wave of harassment and detention of LGBT+ people in Azerbaijan, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“Freedom House calls on the Azerbaijani government to cease the legal harassment and intimidation of former political prisoners and to halt a new wave of detentions of LGBT+ people,” said Marc Behrendt, director of Europe and Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “Azerbaijan’s history of systematically abusing the LGBT+ community and opposition activists should not be ignored and the perpetrators need to be held accountable for their actions. These arrests show the continuation of the crackdown on dissent and free speech in Azerbaijan, negating the goodwill created by President Aliyev’s pardons. Targeting the country’s most vulnerable citizens is a tool of the regime’s efforts to maintain control over society at large.”
Authorities in Azerbaijan arrested dozens of LGBT+ people and called in for questioning several former political prisoners less than two weeks after their release under President Ilham Aliyev’s pardon of hundreds of prisoners on March 16, 2019.
On the evening of April 1, police in Baku detained at least 14 LGBT people, mainly transgender sex workers. Those detained were reportedly forced to undergo medical testing, with at least one person charged with “minor hooliganism” and others sentenced to a 30-day arrest or fined. Minority Azerbaijan, a local LGBT+ organization and media portal, also reported that police are actively “hunting” transgender people through the Internet.
Bayram Mammadov, a member of the pro-democracy NIDA civic movement, was arrested two weeks after his pardon and sentenced to 30-days detention on disobedience charges. In his appeal hearing, Mammadov stated that he suffered ill-treatment at the hands of the authorities, with visible bruises on his face. Likewise, Giyas Ibrahimov, also a recently-released political prisoner and NIDA activist, was brought to the police station through an official summons under the pretext of having a “preventive conversation.” Several other recently released prisoners also report the police calling them in for questioning under similar pretexts.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.