Azerbaijani authorities say they arrested more than 80 people last month who offered "sexual services," following reports by international rights groups that the government had rounded up dozens of members of the country's gay community.
The Azerbaijani Interior Ministry and Prosecutor-General's Office issued a joint statement on October 1 saying that 83 people were detained in raids from September 15 to September 30, based on "requests from citizens."
"The reason for the detentions were offers of sexual services to locals and tourists," the statement said. It added that 56 of those detained were ordered to be held for various periods of time, 18 were fined for administrative offenses, and the other nine were warned.
Of the 56 who were detained, the government statement said 32 were sent to a "treatment center" to care for "various venereal diseases," including six suffering from AIDS.
It said none of those detained were currently in jail.
The statement comes after numerous reports by rights activists of a state crackdown against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
Amnesty International said last week that more than 100 members of Azerbaijan's LGBT community had been detained and that 48 were sentenced to up to 20 days behind bars.
Several of those who said they were detained reported being beaten in custody and not allowed to select their own attorneys, the London-based watchdog said.
"Clearly, LGBT community representatives were exclusively targeted in this raid and this was a blatant intimidation attempt by the authorities," said Amnesty, also calling for Azerbaijani officials to release everyone who had been arrested.
The government statement denied that LGBT people were targeted but said, rather, that the detentions were carried out to address "violations of public order."
Council of Europe Secretary-General Daniel Holtgen said in a statement on October 1 that "this discrimination against sex and other minorities is contrary to the European Convention of Human Rights" and added that LGBT members had the "same rights as others" that should be "respected" by Azerbaijan.
Samed Ragimly, an activist who coordinates legal defense for those detained by the government, told the AFP news agency that those who had been arrested were officially accused of "resisting police" and received up to 30 days in jail.
Ragimly said two of those jailed "admitted" to engaging in prostitution but that the others had various other professions and "have nothing to do with prostitution."
Azerbaijan, which is rich in oil, has been accused by rights group in recent years of authoritarian policies under President Ilham Aliyev.
With reporting by AFP