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Press briefing notes on Azerbaijan, Egypt and Indonesia / LGBT and Boko Haram trials in Nigeria

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 13 October 2017

(1) Azerbaijan, Egypt and Indonesia / LGBT

We are deeply concerned by a wave of arrests in Azerbaijan, Egypt and Indonesia of more than 180 people perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) – many of whom have reportedly been mistreated by law enforcement officials.

In Azerbaijan, as has just been described by several independent UN experts, more than 80 people presumed to be gay or transgender have been arrested in Baku since mid-September. Some were allegedly subjected to electric shocks, beatings, forced shaving and various other forms of humiliation apparently in an attempt to make them incriminate themselves and others.

While all those detained have reportedly been released, several served terms of administrative detention based on charges of “hooliganism” and “resisting a police order”. Many were forced to undergo medical examinations, and information about their health status was divulged to the media by the authorities.

In Egypt, more than 50 people have been arrested in recent weeks based on their assumed sexual orientation or gender identity. Two were arrested for waving rainbow flags during a concert, and one for running a Facebook page. In some cases, individuals were reportedly arrested after being entrapped by law enforcement officials on apps and in internet chat rooms. Charges include “habitual debauchery”, “inciting indecency and debauchery”, and “joining a banned group”. At least 10 men have been sentenced to between one and six years’ imprisonment, most others detainees are awaiting trial, and a few have been released. Several of those detained were subjected to intrusive physical “examinations”. In many cases, due process rights appear to have been violated.

In Indonesia, more than 50 people were arrested at a sauna in Jakarta last Friday, based on their perceived sexual orientation. While many have since been released, four men and one woman were charged under Indonesia’s vague “Law on Pornography”, which has been used to arrest people for consensual same-sex relations.

Arresting or detaining people based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity is by definition arbitrary and violates international law – including rights to inter alia privacy, non-discrimination, equality before the law and equal protection of the law. Arresting and detaining people for legitimately expressing themselves – including by displaying a rainbow flag – is also arbitrary and violates individuals’ right to freedom of expression. In all three countries, authorities have alleged that those arrested were involved in sex work – although in almost all cases the accused have denied such allegations or indicated that they were coerced into confessing involvement. Regardless, United Nations human rights experts have emphasized that States should repeal laws that criminalize sex workers.

Azerbaijan, Egypt and Indonesia should take immediate action to release anyone detained on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, drop charges based on vaguely worded and discriminatory laws, and should repeal such laws in line with their legal obligations under international law and long-standing United Nations recommendations. They should also release immediately all those detained for legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Egypt should urgently prohibit the practice of  intrusive physical “examinations” and Azerbaijan should immediately cease subjecting people to forced or coerced medical tests and exams, which violate the international prohibition on torture and ill-treatment. Those who have been arbitrarily detained and subjected to these abuses should be afforded effective remedy, including reparations. Allegations of torture and ill-treatment should be promptly and thoroughly investigated; and, if convicted, alleged perpetrators punished.

(2) Boko Haram trials in Nigeria

We welcome the decision by the Nigerian authorities to start the trials of Boko Haram suspects, many of whom have been in prolonged pre-trial detention, including some since 2009.

However, given the number of people who are due to be tried over the coming weeks - some 2,300 – we have serious concerns that the conduct of the proceedings may deny the defendants the right to a fair trial and an effective defence. The accused, who have all been charged under Nigeria’s Prevention of Terrorism Act, are being tried individually or in groups depending on the nature of their alleged crimes.

The trials, which are being conducted by four judges, began on Monday at a civilian court set up at a military base and detention centre at Kanji in Niger state. The trials are being held behind closed doors with the media and public excluded.
Under Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nigeria is a party, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing, unless proceedings need exceptionally to be held in camera. Any restrictions on the public nature of a trial, including for the protection of national security, must be both necessary and proportionate, as assessed on a case-by-case basis.
It is essential that Boko Haram insurgents are prosecuted and, if found guilty, held to account for killings and abuses they may have perpetrated, and that victims are able to receive justice. However, the lack of transparency regarding these trials is worrying, and we note that Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission is not allowed to attend and monitor proceedings.

We urge the authorities to allow the Commission to conduct such monitoring and, to that end, welcome the fact that the Solicitor General has indicated that he will facilitate such monitoring. We call for this to take place without delay.

We also stress that the Government must ensure the right of all defendants to legal representation and that the trials adhere to international human rights norms and standards.


For more information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Liz Throssell  ( +41 22 917 9466/ethrossell@ohchr.org ) or Jeremy Laurence: + 41 22 917 9383  / jlaurence@ohchr.org

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