In Azerbaijan authorities remain silent over the murder of a trans woman

Image by Arzu Geybullayeva

This article was first published on OC Media. An edited version is republished here under a content partnership agreement. 

Azerbaijan's LGBTQ+ community was rocked by the murder of yet another trans woman whose body was found on March 12 on the outskirts of the capital Baku. The news of the murder and the victim's identity were circulated among the LGBTQ+ community via Instagram and X hashtags. Minority Azerbaijan, an LGBTQ+ rights organization, in a statement asked anyone with additional information to come forward in an attempt to aid the investigation. Meanwhile, LGBTQI+ activists say authorities and local media keep silent over the case.

The victim

There is very little information about the victim except her name, Aytan. According to LGBTQ+ activist Alex Shah who was the first to break the news on social media, Aytan was tortured and then killed. In a post on Meta, Shah said Aytan had no one to bury her body. Shah also called on the authorities to investigate the case.

In a separate interview with OC Media, Shah also said after writing about the case on their social media and tagging relevant state institutions, they were called in for questioning and informed that additional information was needed in order to open an investigation.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Anar Gafarov, told OC Media that the ministry had no information about the case. A spokesperson for the General Prosecutor’s Office, Aysel Hasanova, did not return OC Media's calls.

On March 21, Shah told OC Media that two suspects, Aytan’s partner and landlord, were arrested.

Silence from the media

Local queer rights activists accused the local media of failing to report on the recent murder. In an interview with OC Media, Leyla Hasanova, from QueeRadar initiative, which monitors and documents LGBTIQI+ phobia in the Azerbaijani media, said, “The media is largely keeping silent, and we call it phobic silence.” By keeping silent, the media is actively contributing to the situation by not providing coverage or support, noted Hasanova.

But in a country where media often targets queer people, this silence is not surprising, according to Hasanova. Citing QueerRadar media monitoring reports from previous years, Hasanova said local media bias in their coverage of the LGBTQ+ community appeared in over 70 percent of the stories the initiative monitored last year.

The media, however, is not the only place where silence looms when the LGBTQ+ community is targeted. In general, for many queer individuals who face discrimination and violence, there is little recourse through the police or any official judicial channels.

The most brazen example of the state's unwillingness to help the queer community was when in 2021, popular blogger Sevinc Huseynova made open calls to violence against the LGBTQ+ community on social media platforms. She was never reprimanded for her actions despite ample evidence of her encouraging people to commit violent crimes against queer people.

Fast forward to the present day, and inaction when addressing hate crimes, specifically those targeting LGBTQ+ people in the country, continues.

Azerbaijan does not have separate data or mechanisms in place documenting hate crimes committed against LGBTQ+ people. The country also does not have legal protection against hate crimes and hate speech despite prior international calls to adopt anti-discrimination legislation.

According to ILGA Europe, an international non-governmental organization advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and freedoms, Azerbaijan has occupied the last place among 49 countries on the organization's Rainbow Index consecutively for years now.

In its most country report, ILGA Europe noted that “hate crimes against the LGBTQI+ community continued to be a serious issue” in Azerbaijan during the reporting period. The report cited other instances of murder, physical assault, and arrests of community members.

Aytan, Nuray, Hulya, and others, whose names and stories were never reported or heard, are a living testament that in the absence of basic protection mechanisms, victims of abuse and harassment are left to their own devices with justice unlikely to be ever served.

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