Gay and trans people are reportedly being rounded up by Police in Azerbaijan and then humiliated and tortured.
Pictures posted on social media showed men and women being physically assaulted and manhandled by police officers, reflecting behaviours seen in Chechnya earlier this year.
Despite homosexuality being legal in Azerbaijan, it seems clear that the rights of its LGBT citizens are lagging behind European neighbours and with the UEFA Euro 2020 over the horizon, serious questions have been raised about the country’s ability to host the international event.
Police have denied that these arrests were motivated by attitudes towards sexual orientation or gender identity. In a local newspaper, Caucasian Knot, officials are claiming that the arrests are part of a national campaign to combat prostitution and “protect national moral values.”
Activists are reporting that mainly gay men and transgender women are being targeted, with Police forcing them to shave their heads. Those arrested are being held for up to 30 days and are being forced to reveal the names and address of other LGBT people.
Homosexuality is not illegal in Azerbaijan, however the legalisation in 2000 leaves the country trailing behind its European neighbours on the road to LGBT equality. In addition, there are currently no laws that protect the rights of LGBT people and given recent events, many are being left in fear of their own lives.
The International Lesbian and Gay Association of Europe states that there is a “near total absence of legal protection” for LGBT people in the country.
The Azerbaijani capital Baku, where the arrests took place, is due to host the UEFA Euro 2020. It’s one of thirteen European cities to host the European Football Championships, with the city’s National Stadium being used for the group stage and quarter-finals.
It’s not the first time the city has hosted an important European event. Baku was the host for the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012. The song contest attracts a very wide LGBT following, many of whom joined fellow Eurovision fans in Azerbaijan that year, taking place against a backdrop of tension and protests.
Iran withdrew its ambassador from Baku in the build up to the Eurovision Song Contest, claiming that Azerbaijan was engaging in “anti-Islamic behaviour.”
There were also accusations from Iranian clerics and lawmakers that Baku would be hosting a “gay parade”; comments which only worsened the already established tensions between the two countries.
Given that Azerbaijan is due to come under the spotlight once again as it hosts the European Football Championships in 2020, there are fears for the safety of LGBT football fans.
There are renewed calls for UEFA to react to recent breaches in human rights, as a means of sending a message of acceptance and diversity within the sport.
Hadley Stewart asks: “With many LGBT people living in Azerbaijan fearing for their safety, how will the Union of European Football Associations safeguard LGBT fans visiting Baku during their competition? Should Baku be erased from the list of host cities? Recent events in Azerbaijan further emphasise the notion that the country is trailing behind fellow European countries with regards to LGBT rights. Although the country legalised homosexuality seventeen years ago, it’s clear that this alarming behaviour from police officers in Baku is being supported by local officials. Many eyes will now be turning to UEFA to take action.”