Human-rights activists say Azerbaijani authorities have launched a purge against LGBT citizens, aping their counterparts in Chechnya.
This latest persecution points to the need for Canada and other Western countries to find ways to respond when governments attack sexual minorities within their own country, especially now that such actions appear to be spreading.
The Nefes LGBT Azerbaijan Alliance has published an English-language report on the organization's Facebook page that states police have begun rounding up people believed to be gay or transgender.
"Detainees were subjected to beatings, verbal abuse, and forced medical examinations, as well as transsexual women's heads being forcibly shaven," the report states. "Many were released only after giving up the addresses of fellow members of the LGBTI community, who were then in turn arrested and subjected to the same treatment."
The report quotes testimony from several anonymous sources. According to Victim B: "I was with my friend in Old Town. Suddenly police officers came to us and to put us in car and took to police station in Nasimi District. Probably I'm feminine looking guy and that's why they could recognize me. I had two-day detention. During these two days three police officers were beating me so badly, even I lost my consciousness."
Javid Nabiyev, the author of the report, left Azerbaijan two years ago and now lives in Germany. He told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail exchange that his research and interviews suggested that more than 100 people had been detained. People, he said, are fleeing in fear to Georgia and Turkey.
The New York-based news organization EurasiaNet reports 46 confirmed arrests since Sept. 15.
The Trudeau government reacted quickly to news of the purge.
"Canada is concerned by the recent reports of arrests, detentions and violence targeting LGBTQ2 people in Azerbaijan," Adam Austen, spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said in a statement on Friday.
"Azerbaijan has an obligation to protect the rights of all of its citizens … we call for the protection of all people in Azerbaijan whose sexual orientation makes them a target for persecution."
Nominally, Azerbaijan is a secular democracy in which same-sex activity is legal. In reality, the Muslim population is highly intolerant of homosexuality and the authoritarian government suppresses dissent.
On Sept. 20, an Azerbaijani newspaper reported that the opposition Justice Party supported the pogrom.
"The Western circles, who are the sources of immorality and illness, who have been cursing God's name for a long time, have been devastating our national traditions under the name of human rights," a party leader stated. (Translation by Google.)
The Ministry of Internal Affairs denies any purge, but told another publication that prostitutes and others "of non-traditional sexual orientation," had been briefly detained after complaints from local citizens, and had been examined for the presence of sexually transmitted diseases.
Western human-rights organizations have thus far been unable to independently verify the extent of the abuse. But there is general alarm at the prospect that, mere months after the Chechen government conducted a purge of sexual minorities, a country in the same region appears to have launched a copycat purge.
As The Globe recently reported, the Trudeau government secretly spirited several dozen gay Chechens who were at risk to Canada as refugees. A similar program may be required again, this time for Azerbaijan.
Critics note that LGBT people from Saudi Arabia, Uganda and many other countries are chronically at risk of persecution and even death at the hands of the state, but the Canadian government does not seek to rescue them.
But sexual minorities fleeing such countries already have strong claims for refugee status.
There appears to be growing need for some kind of rapid response that can be activated when one regime or another launches a sudden purge against its LGBT population, putting them at risk, perhaps through an international forum such as the United Nations.
For now, the Trudeau government has let Azerbaijani authorities know that Canada is watching them. The question is how this country will respond, if things get seriously worse.