Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Report: persecution of LGBT people has worsened in Azerbaijan over the last two years

*by Independent Gay Journalist (ILGA-Europe)

During the years of 2007 and 2008 at least 100 cases of human rights violation based on sexual identity have taken place. The independent research, which kept names of interviewees anonymous, revealed that most cases dealt with blackmailing of parents, family members and friends of the people with non-traditional sexual orientation by the police of Azerbaijan. There are also cases of discrimination at work place. There are only few organizations in Baku, which assist people from LBGT community who need consulting on how they should act if police invites them to the police office, if they have been fired from their job, or if they have been evicted from homes by their parents.

On May 13, 2007 a brutal assault of 28 sex workers and representatives of LGBT community took place. All of them were forced to take medical tests on HIV/AIDS without any pre-test or post-test preparation. Within one day all of them were arrested and placed into custody for three days. The arrested ones were forced to walk with their hands in the handcuffs like heavy-crime prisoners accompanied by convoy police from the police department to the building of the court which is about three kilometres away. During this walk process, the prisoners were mocked and humiliated by the policy and people passing by the streets. After three-day imprisonment, prisoners were transferred to venereal disease dispenser hospital. All their personal belongings, including cash, cell phones, clothes, cosmetics, and even wigs were taken away from them when being arrested and were never returned back to them.

The consequences of this arrest still have had their impact up until now. The police has the list of all cell phone numbers reached by those who were arrested and until now whoever phone number was on the list are being invited to the police department and being blackmailed for money. All of those who are being blackmailed are males. In case when victims reject paying money, they are threatened to have their family or relatives informed about him having sexual relationships with other men or transgender persons. Many of the victims are married and have children and since they would be harmed from the information leak, 99% of them pay bribes to the police.

On June 3rd 2008 a young gay man by name Rufat reported that he was contacted by the police and was demanded to pay bribe. Due to hard financial situation, the guy could not pay anything. So, the police called his parents and told them in a very rude manner that their son is gay. After this call, parents evicted their son from home while he had no financial sources, nor any extra clothes. A number of interviews with the victims show that there are many similar cases when freedom of private life and release of personal information rights have been violated.

There are also many cases of discrimination at work place. In January 2008 a lesbian, who worked in the bank was about to be fired. Her photo was found in the Internet. On this photo she was together with another girl and it had comments. The photo was taken during a closed gay party, which took place in Baku. She was accused in immoral behaviour and was told that people with such sexual orientation put the whole staff and the bank to shame and thus, may potentially result in losing customers. The photo was shared among all internal employees of the bank. The girl became a subject of discriminative discussions and mocking by her colleagues. A local human rights organization had to send an official letter to the director of the bank. In the letter, the management of the bank was informed that the party was devoted to struggle against HIV/AIDS and was not related to sexual minorities. After this the girl was left alone, however she was still heavily mocked by her colleagues and discrimination still continues.

There were also many cases of abuse and discrimination in the families where there was coming out of the members. The share of such cases follows the number of cases of police complaints.

The most recent case took place on June 20th, 2008. A 20 year-old guy left his home and moved in to live with his boyfriend. His father belongs to a community of Wahhabism, which is an Islamic radical movement. The guy was a subject of verbal abuse and beatings by his father. The parents were calling and threatening him every day and demanded from him to come back home. On June 20th 2008 his parents came to the university where he is studying and were waiting for him outside while their son was taking final exam. When he came out of the building, his father caught him and started beating him up in front of the other students in the yard of the university. The father hit the back side of the guy’s head and in result his son passed out. His body was covered with blood. He was put into the cab and taken home, where his father started the scandal again and took a knife threatening to kill his own son. However, the mother stopped her husband and the boy is still alive, but he has been under a home arrest since then.

There was a murder of a gay man in August 2007. The victim’s name was Sharif and he was murdered in the apartment which he was renting at that time. The murderer was a policeman who was also a Wahhabi radical. The murderer and the victim met each other in the online personals. They arranged a date and the murderer arrived to Sharif’s apartment with a ready big knife. There were also three friends of Sharif at his apartment at that time. The murderer entered Sharif’s bedroom. According to his friends, within the first minute of the date, Sharif started crying and asking for help. First, the friends did not take it seriously. However, a minute later they realized that it was actually serious. They saw a murderer covered with blood and with a knife in his hands coming out of the bedroom. The guys were shocked. The murderer attacked them and wounded one of them in the heart area, while the others managed to escape. Sharif had 12 deep knife wounds in his chest. He was taken to the hospital, however the doctors rejected to help him and in result Sharif died from excessive lost of blood. The murdered was caught in three days after the murder case. The court process lasted six months. The judge and the prosecutor wanted to soften the sentence, and decided to imprison the murderer for six years only. He was also sent to a mental institution, however doctors there failed to prove the murderer was mentally sick. The lawyer who defended the murderer openly stated in the court sessions that “people like Sharif must be murdered. But it is not a murder, it is a cleansing of the society from such people”. An independent lawyer applied for appeal and achieved her goal - the murderer was sentenced for 13 and half year of imprisonment. However, one should make a conclusion – why the rights of gay and lesbian people in this country should be defended after they have been killed, not before?

In February of 2008, a guy by name Fuad shared that three months ago his car was stolen and he reported to the police. The police found the stolen car and the thief himself. The thief told the police that he met Fuad through online personals and they were in sexual relationships. He also said that he took car keys in Fuad’s home and he did not consider taking anything from “a bottom homosexual” as a crime. As soon as they learned about Fuad’s sexual orientation, police immediately ignored the theft crime and started blackmailing Fuad. They openly requested him to pay bribe, otherwise they would call his parents and tell them everything. Later he obtained a lawyer, who was accompanying him during the visit to the police. When the police saw the lawyer, they immediately stopped blackmailing Fuad.

All these sad stories share the same attitude towards gay and lesbian people in Azerbaijan. Their human rights are not being protected and they suffer severe persecution both by the police and the society itself.

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