Pro-government social media channels in Azerbaijan have released footage of Shia theologian Sardar Babayev, who is awaiting trial for treason, appearing to secretly record intimate encounters of other Shia activists.
Two similar videos began circulating on 10 November. In both, Babayev is seen planting a camera in a room, after which a religious activist enters and has sex with someone.
Sardar Babayev was detained by the State Security Service on 19 October before being charged with treason for allegedly working for Iran. He has denied the charges.
The channels that released the videos claimed that Babayev sent the footage to Iran to be used by the Iranian security services as blackmail material.
The religious activist seen having sex in one of the videos has since commented to local media calling the latest allegations defamation.
Despite the footage appearing to show that Babayev had secretly recorded him, he defended him, saying that the videos were being spread because of Babayev’s fight against religious oppression in Azerbaijan.
Babayev’s lawyer, Javad Javadov, told OC Media that he could not yet comment on the issue as he had not met with his client since the videos were released.
Altay Goyushov, a prominent opposition political activist and historian, has suggested that the allegations that religious figures in Azerbaijan were spying for Iran were overblown.
‘Can many Shia clerics be seen as part of the soft power of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Azerbaijan? Yes, of course, because Iran has a theocratic government, the Islamic Republic.’
However, he said that ‘Studying in Iran, Iraq, and other Muslim countries does not mean you are an agent or a spy.’
‘In any case, the use of intimate videos for pressure is vile. If those who make and distribute such videos are not unequivocally condemned by society, development will be in the direction of humiliation, not humanity.’