Authorities in Azerbaijan are rejecting accusations of a crackdown on gay and transgender people in the ex-Soviet nation.
The Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s office said in a joint statement Tuesday that raids in the capital, Baku, targeted those accused of offering unsolicited sexual services, violating public order and spreading infectious diseases.
They said that all 83 people detained last month have been freed from custody, but 32 diagnosed with having sexually transmitted diseases were sent for medical treatment. They said that 12 of them were diagnosed with HIV, of whom six had developed AIDS.
Tuesday's statement followed accusations from LGBTQ advocates in Azerbaijan and international human rights groups, which accused Azerbaijani authorities of cracking down on LGBTQ people.
Javid Nabiyev, president of Nefes LGBT Azerbaijan Alliance, said in a Facebook video posted on Sept. 22 that police arrested more than 50 people and detained arrestees for up to 30 days and forced them to give names and addresses of gay and transgender acquaintances.
“People are confused,” Nabiyev said in the video. “Everybody have [sic] fear that they might be arrested anytime on the street, and even existence of this fear is big problem.”
According to the Civil Rights Defenders, a human rights group based in Sweden, detainees were subjected to beatings and forced medical examinations, and transgender women had their heads forcibly shaved.
The group, which said it had received information from local activists and lawyers, added that detainees were kept under “administrative detention,” a legal practice in Azerbaijan that does not require a public hearing prior to sentencing.
Evelyne Paradis, executive director for ILGA-Europe, an international LGBTQ advocacy organization, said “attempts by the authorities in Azerbaijan to downplay these detentions are not convincing."
“Forcing any LGBTI people to be medically examined against their will is disturbing enough, but we also have received multiple reports of verbal and physical abuse,” Paradis said in a statement. “It is a clear and serious breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Paradis called for an “independent investigation” and more vocal condemnation of the situation by intergovernmental institutions. ILGA-Europe has also launched an appeal for donations to help victims of detention in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan has an unsteady record on LGBTQ issues, with a May 2016 report by ILGA-Europe ranking the country as the worst in Europe to be gay.
In 2015, the European Parliament voted to condemn the “intimidation and repression” of LGBTQ people in Azerbaijan after a string of homophobic incidents, including Nabiyev receiving death threats after becoming engaged to another man.
While the majority-Muslim country decriminalized homosexual activity in 2000, ILGA-Europe’s 2016 report found “LGBTI people continue to be faced with a near total absence of legal protection” in Azerbaijan.