Human rights groups have urged the government in the European country of Azerbaijan to release a number of LGBTI people from jail after an alleged spate of mass arrests and violent abuse.
Activists claim that in the last fortnight as many as 100 people have been arrested or detained by authorities in the capital city of Baku.
Samed Rahimli, a lawyer based in the city, told The Guardian he was aware of 60 cases of LGBTI people who had been either sentenced to 20 days’ imprisonment or fined.
“There have been previous crackdowns on LGBT people, but this one is much bigger, with systematic and widespread raids,” he said.
Activists have claimed that those arrested faced beatings and forced medical examinations, while transgender women had had their heads shaved.
The government’s Ministry of Internal Affairs told a local news agency that the raids were targeting prostitution and “diseases”, not the LGBTI community.
A spokesperson said: “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 behaviour, and also those whom police or health authorities believe to be carriers of infectious diseases.”
International advocacy group ILGA said the extent of the crackdown was difficult to gauge but the country’s past treatment of its LGBTI people was poor.
“There is no justification for this indiscriminate targeting of people perceived to be members of the LGBTI community,” ILGA’s European executive director Evelyne Paradis told The Independent.
“[We] are worried about the fate of the victims of these raids, and are calling for the immediate release of anyone still in detention.”
Homosexual activity has been legal in Azerbaijan since 2000, but it’s not widely accepted.
The country was ranked the worst place in Europe for LGBTI people in a 2016 survey by ILGA.