UN experts are urging Azerbaijani authorities to investigate reports of human rights abuses against gay and transgender people that included arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment, torture, and forced medical examinations while in detention.
“We are deeply disturbed by a series of police raids launched since mid-September in the capital, Baku, leading to the arrest and detention of more than 80 people perceived to be gay, transgender or whom the authorities have alleged are involved in sex work,” an October 13 statement from the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) quoted the experts as saying.
Those detained were allegedly subjected to beatings, humiliation, electric shocks, and forced shaving in order to force them to incriminate themselves or reveal names of acquaintances, and some were held in isolation, the Geneva-based OHCHR said in the statement.
Such practices, the statement said, would amount to Azerbaijan's breaking its obligations to prevent and protect people from torture and ill-treatment.
Azerbaijani authorities have said the detentions were prompted by complaints about disturbances caused by "offers of sexual services to locals and tourists in central Baku."
However, the vast majority of those arrested have denied being involved in sex work, the OHCHR statement said.
All those arrested have since been released, the statement said. Some of them, however, served terms of administrative detention after being charged with hooliganism and resisting police.
Although complaints about instances of ill treatment were raised in court hearings, Azerbaijani judges did not take measures and no investigations were ordered despite requests from the victims' lawyers, the UN experts say.
"International human rights law and the treaty obligations of Azerbaijan are clear -- no one should be arrested on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or because they are or are perceived to be a sex worker.
"Azerbaijan should repeal imprecisely worded laws that are used to carry out arbitrary arrests," the statement said.
"We call on the authorities to investigate promptly and thoroughly all allegations of torture and ill-treatment and ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with adequate sanctions," the statement quoted the experts as saying.
"Azerbaijan should immediately cease subjecting people to forced or coerced medical tests and exams and disclosing their health records publicly, which violates the absolute prohibition on torture and ill-treatment and the rights to health and privacy of individuals,” the OHCHR statement said.
"We call on the authorities to protect the rights of everyone without discrimination -- including people perceived to be gay or transgender, and those who are or are perceived to be sex workers. Those who have been arbitrarily detained and subjected to abuses should be afforded effective remedy, including reparations."
Western officials and international human rights groups say President Ilham Aliyev's government has persistently sought to stifle dissent and persecuted independent media outlets, journalists, and opposition politicians and activists.
Aliyev, who has ruled the oil-producing South Caucasus country of nearly 10 million people since shortly before his father's death in 2003, has shrugged off the criticism.