LGBTQ+ activists ‘blocked’ from public trial of man who beheaded and castrated gay journalist

Azerbaijan’s LGBTQ+ community and supporters of murdered journalist Avaz Hafizli are being barred from his alleged killer’s public trial, local activists have said.

Hafizli was a journalist with the news channel Kanal 13, and was also a tireless activist for LGBTQ+ rights, particularly trans rights, in Azerbaijan, which has placed at the very bottom of ILGA Europe’s Rainbow map ranking of LGBTQ+ human rights in Europe for years.

He was an openly gay man, and was critical of the government and lack of hate crime legislation in the country, even chaining himself to the gate of the Prosecutor General’s Office during one protest.

In February this year, Hafizli was brutally murdered, his killer beheading him and cutting off his genitals. His cousin, Amrulla Gulaliyev, admitted to murdering him.

The first hearing in Gulaliyev’s trial was held at the Baku Court of Grave Crimes on 20 June and is currently ongoing.

But local activists say that despite the courtroom being public, the LGBTQ+ community and media are being repeatedly blocked from entering.

Queer activist Ali Malikov, founder of the Azerbaijani LGBTQ+ news and community platform Qiy Vaar, told PinkNews: “Currently, we cannot follow the trials of Avaz Hafizli, and we cannot remain silent against this illegality… Media representatives and LGBTQI+ activists gather in front of the courthouse every time.”

Malikov said that at one court date, on 18 July, an employee insisted only four to five people could enter the building, despite the rule being that “people can enter the open court until the hall is full”.

Avaz Hafizli was an LGBTQ+ activist and journalist in Azerbaijan. (Salamova Maftuna)

A petition has been started by Hafizli’s supporters, demanding that citizens be “admitted to the courtroom in a fair manner”, and for the charges against Gulaliyev to be upgraded to “murder with special cruelty”.

Signatories have also called for the prosecution of blogger Sevinj Huseynova, who has openly called for the murder of trans people, and for “the institutions to which Avaz Hafizli repeatedly applied for his safety, but did not look into his case” to be brought to justice.

Before his death, Hafizli had lived in fear, knowing that the laws in his own country did not protect him.

“We feel the absence of any law in Azerbaijan regarding hate killings in our lives,” the petition states.

“We invite activists, journalists and everyone to [join us in] solidarity! We see the cause of these injustices as the legal loopholes and unfair judicial system of the Azerbaijan state… We LGBTQ+ people living in Azerbaijan are systematically attacked, hunted by the police and killed.”

The petition has been sent to Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev, the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

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