Two Azerbaijani queer rights groups have reported that several queer sex workers were called to police stations in Baku where they were offered money to hold an anti-opposition rally in support of the police. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Azerbaijan has called the allegations ‘absurd’.
On Tuesday the Nefes LGBT Alliance and Minority Azerbaijan said that they had received reports that several queer sex workers were offered ₼100–₼300 ($59–$180) to ‘express their satisfaction with their present situation’ and to say that the ‘LGBT community is on the side of the police’.
‘The interesting fact is that the proposals came to the community members who did not suffer from and were not detained during the events of 2017’, the groups wrote in a joint statement.
[Read on from 2017: Mass detention of queer people reported in Azerbaijan]
‘We, being the Nefes LGBT Alliance, Minority Azerbaijan and the Free LGBT Organization, urge the LGBT community of the country: don’t participate in these kinds of cunning games, accepting the proposed amounts of money or other things’, the statement reads.
‘Such provocations, first of all, put in question the physical security of the LGBT community.’
The groups strongly condemned the ‘use of the LGBT community in dirty plans’, and urged all Azerbaijani queer people to protect their security during demonstrations.
Gulnara Mehdiyeva, a veteran gender activist with Minority Azerbaijan, told OC Media that the queer people targetted were sex workers, who are financially vulnerable.
‘They say that recently they have received suspicious phone calls, they can’t work because they are afraid, but they need to pay their rent. They need money’, she said.
Ilham Babayev, the chief spokesperson of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, told Meydan TV that the allegations were ‘absurd’.
‘It is impossible; no police [officers] would call LGBT members and propose this’, he said.
Political expert Leyla Aliyeva, a visiting scholar at the Russian and East European Studies Centre at Oxford University, told OC Media that these actions by the police were ‘most likely [aimed] to justify police violence during the recent demonstrations’.
‘They use groups that are vulnerable to apply pressure.’
The alleged pro-police rally would have taken place at a time of high tensions in Azerbaijan. The countries largest opposition rally in recent years took place on 19 October, in which hundreds of protestors including opposition Popular Front Party chair Ali Karimli were arrested.
[Read more on OC Media: Hundreds arrested including opposition leader at Azerbaijani anti-government protest]
Another opposition rally is planned for 2 November.
In an interview of Karimli by Azerbaijani journalist Tural Sadiqli live-streamed on the Azad Soz (‘free speech’) YouTube channel, Sadiqli suggested that the police would bring ‘sexual minorities and drug addicts’ to the upcoming opposition rally.
Gulnara Mehdiyeva of Minority Azerbaijan said they had asked those allegedly targetted about the time and the date of the supposed action, but ‘they didn’t know because they refused the proposal’.
‘We didn’t know that it was connected with the opposition, we understood the situation differently. But after we watched the Azad Soz programme, we understood that the action was supposed to be anti oppositional. [Therefore] we shared our statement right away’, she said.