Azerbaijani queer couple ‘fear for their lives’ after Valentine’s Day video leaked online

20 February 2020
A screenshot of the video posted online with the caption ‘14 February is their day, lovebugs 😂😂😂😂’, and calling for people to insult them. Published with the original author’s permission.

A queer couple in Azerbaijan say they are in fear of their lives after facing death threats over a private video of them celebrating Valentine’s Day that was leaked online.

Ravan Nasimi, 28, told OC Media that he shared the video, which includes him and his partner kissing, to a private group of friends on Facebook on Friday.

He said that he was informed by friends the following morning that the video had appeared in several groups on social media and that there were numerous homophobic and threatening comments under it. 

The groups the video appeared in included ‘XKK Xoşbəxt Kişilər Klubu’ (happy men’s club) on Facebook and ‘VineAzerbaijan’ on Instagram, with 40,000 and 226,000 followers accordingly. The groups also shared the video in their WhatsApp groups.

‘My partner and I requested that the pages delete the video. But they did not reply to us and even blocked us. We are following the publications through fake profiles to bring evidence to the police’, he said. 

‘They said we need to be killed secretly’

According to Nasimi, someone sent him a message on Instagram threatening to beat them, but then deleted the message. 

‘Pictures of our friends who stood up for us were also shared, and they are also being insulted. Our profiles are being reported. People say in the comments that we live in Ganja, that we need to be killed secretly, that if they meet us they will beat us severely. We don’t leave the house at night’, he said.

Nasimi said that he and his 20-year-old partner, who did not wish to be named, had also faced pressure at work since the video was leaked. 

He said that his partner was fired because of the video, but then his boss changed his mind. 

‘[On Tuesday] he was told that he was not fired, but should temporarily stay away from work until everything settles down’. 

‘At my work, I was told I would not be fired […] but because of the pressure I am facing there I will most likely quit myself soon’, Nasimi said. According to him, some of his colleagues have stopped talking to him while others have mocked him. 

‘The police are unable to help’

Nasimi reported that the couple addressed the police on Friday evening. He said they were called to Ganja’s Nizami district department where after speaking with officers for 2 hours, they were told that the police could not help them and that they should address the courts.

‘They said that even the court could not help us though, as such cases have already happened and did not have any results.’

Nasimi said they were preparing to submit a complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office and also planned to address Zakir Garalov, the Prosecutor General. 

A spokesperson for Ganja’s Nizami District Police Department declined to comment, referring OC Media to Interior Ministry. The ministry was not reachable by phone.

Human rights defender Emin Abbasov told OC Media that protecting people’s lives and health was the direct responsibility of the government.

He said that protecting human and civil rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution was the responsibility of the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. 

According to the Police Act, it is the direct responsibility of the police to take steps to prevent crimes and protect a person's identity, human rights, and freedoms from unlawful acts. 

Abbasov said that the Criminal Code allowed the authorities to open a criminal case where plans to commit a crime were published online. He said that the police must immediately react to such information. 

[Read on OC Media: Azerbaijan’s media — spreading fear and hate of queer people]

Abbasov mentioned a similar case in which the European Court of Human Rights ruled in January that law enforcement agencies refusing to investigate homophobic hate messages against queer people on social networks was a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

‘Thus, the failure of the public authorities to take appropriate protective measures against hate speech against homosexual individuals is a major sign of discrimination and excludes the lawful discharge of state duties on everyone’, he said. 

Gulnara Mehdiyeva, a veteran gender equality activist from Azerbaijan, told OC Media that Ganja, where the couple lived, was more conservative than Baku, and that it was harder to remain anonymous. ‘I take their chances of being beaten seriously’, she said.

She noted that it was not the first case of bullying of queer people on social media. According to her, in 2019, Azerbaijani Facebook page ‘United colours of Azerbaijan’, a project that publishes pictures of Azerbaijanis along with their dreams, posted a picture of a queer girl who said that she dreamt of marrying a woman in Azerbaijan. 

‘After that, she was being pointed at in the streets and pushed in the subway. She was also targeted with bullying and threats on Facebook’, she said. 

[Read the story of another queer man in a province of Azerbaijan’s: Voice | ‘My destiny depends not on the political regime but the way of thinking’]

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