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Letter to the Honorable Rex W. Tillerson, Secretary of State - Pallone Leads Over 40 Members of Congress in Calling on Trump Administration to Denounce Crackdown on LGBT Community in Azerbaijan

We write to draw your attention to deeply concerning reports of a recent crackdown on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people in Azerbaijan, and to request that the State Department take a stronger role on the world stage in protecting LGBTQ rights.

According to numerous reports, over 80 people, mostly gay men and transgender women were arrested, while at least 45 were detained, beaten and tortured in the capital city of Baku. Authorities raided bars, clubs and apartment parties and confiscated detainees' phones to find more suspected LGBTQ people to target and arrest. Legal experts have said this is one of the largest and most systematic anti-LGBTQ crackdowns in Azerbaijan, but it is hardly unprecedented.

While reports have shown that all of these individuals have been released, Azerbaijani authorities continue attempting to justify these actions, with an Interior Ministry spokesman claiming that those arrested "demonstratively show a lack of respect for those around them, annoy citizens with their behavior, and also those whom police or health authorities believe to be carriers of infectious diseases." These claims have only further stigmatized the LGBTQ community as "diseased," threatened further harm against LGBTQ people, and undermined the effort to combat actual epidemics in the Caucasus region.

This crackdown also appears to be part of a frightening trend of persecution targeting LGBTQ people in many parts of the world. From Azerbaijan's neighbor, Chechnya, where at least 200 were arrested and up to 20 were killed, to Indonesia, where two men were recently caned in front of a jeering crowd, attacks on LGBTQ people now appear to be resurgent.

While we recognize that the State Department did eventually respond to the situation in Chechnya, and that you addressed your concerns privately with Foreign Minister Lavrov, we believe the response was too slow and too muted. A stronger response by you and by President Trump might have put an end to these abuses more quickly, and ensured greater accountability by those responsible.

This is also a matter of global security. As we have seen in countless cases, countries that respect the human rights of their citizenry are also more likely to have stable governments that avoid conflict with other countries and help to make their regions more secure and peaceful. It not only makes them safer, it makes us safer as well.

We therefore urge you to speak out against the human rights abuses in Azerbaijan and against LGBTQ people throughout the world and to work with the Azeri government and others to ensure they are protecting all of their citizens, no matter whom they are or whom they love. The U.S. must continue to demonstrate the human rights leadership we have shown for decades and not let dictators violate human rights with impunity.

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