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Azerbaijan's Eurovision welcome for gays questioned again

Azeri officials have again reassured journalists that gays will be welcome at the 2012 Eurovision song contest to be held in Azerbaijan's capital Baku.

And Alekper Aliyev, a writer and an author of a controversial book about a gay relationship between an Azeri and a man from Armenia, the country's historic enemy, which was removed by the police from a big bookstore in Baku, told the BBC:

"During Eurovision, no-one will bother gay foreigners in Baku. People here don't mind, as long as it's not in their family."

"There are several openly gay celebrities in Baku who have money and bodyguards, and they are safe. But nothing will change [because of Eurovision] for the majority of gays, particularly in the provinces. This society will never accept them."

Azeri refugee Babi Badalov told the BBC:

"Eurovision will be held in the five-star Hotel Europa. Everyone knows that after midnight not far from this hotel you can get gay sex with a transvestite prostitute. Married men go there for fun. And yet homosexuality to them is disgusting."

Yadigyar Sadykov, a human rights activist from Mr Badalov's native region, said:

"Homosexuality here is seen as worse than prostitution. If a family decided to kill a gay relative, most people would approve. I have heard of many suicides of suspected homosexuals - I have never met an openly gay person around here."

Elnur Aslanov, a senior official from the Azeri presidential administration, told the BBC that these comments were expatriates issuing "ill-informed speculation" about the treatment of LGBT in Azerbaijan .

"We consider all this nothing more than an unsuccessful attempt by those naysayers to gain a better reputation in their respective countries in the light of the upcoming Eurovision song contest in Azerbaijan," she said.

According to a Council of Europe report published in June, during 2009 police raided gay bars and arrested almost 50 people. Police reportedly held the individuals and threatened to expose their sexual orientation publicly unless they paid a bribe. A film documentary from Azerbaijan in which several people testify about their experiences also points to such incidents of blackmail.

The US State Department 2010 Human Rights Report on Azerbaijan said:

"During the year, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community continued to refuse to lodge formal complaints with law enforcement bodies out of fear of reprisal or retaliatory persecution. Also during the year, the LGBT community held almost monthly gatherings; these were routinely raided."

UN treaty bodies and UN special rapporteurs have, in relation to Azerbaijan urged an end to acts of violence and harassment by the police against LGBT persons. In some instances LGBT human rights defenders have been a target of such harassment and violence. The UN Special Representative on the situation of human rights defenders pointed out in 2007 that:

“In numerous cases ... police or government officials are the alleged perpetrators of violence and threats against defenders of LGBTI rights. In several of these cases ... police officers have, allegedly, beaten up or even sexually abused these defenders of LGBTI rights.” 

The Azeri pro-LGBT NGO Gender and Development has managed to get state registration but reported that they were contacted several times during the registration process by the State Security Committee regarding the target groups, scope of the organisation and the organisation’s relations with other countries.

Transgender women report being refused treatment in accident and emergency departments.

Azerbaijan has consistently voted against LGBT human rights at the United Nations.

In March Amnesty International reported on a intensifying “wide-reaching and ruthless” crackdown by the Azeri authorities on opposition, freedom of speech and any sign of dissent. This included the use of homophobic slurs at a rally against opposition leader Ali Karimli.

After the Eurovision win some activists said it could be used to improve human rights in the country. @GoldenTent tweeted:

#Democracy advocates of #Azerbaijan - 12 months of #Eurovision coverage can work to your advantage - start your engines! ;) #Caucasus #esc

Babi Badalov is pessimistic:

"Everybody's rights are violated in Azerbaijan, and gays are not an exception. I doubt that I will live to see my country join the modern world."

HT: Gay Armenia

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