Systemic abuse of young girls and women in Azerbaijan continues unabated.

In the village of Mursequlu, located in the Nefchala administrative district of Azerbaijan, a 16-year-old girl suffering from an intellectual disability is facing sexual abuse. According to activist Vafa Nagi, who shared the story of the girl on Facebook, the abuse has been ongoing at least since 2018, under the supervision of the girl’s mother.

According to Nagi, the district police have been involved in the abuse, working with the mother and having installed cameras in the house. The men, who visit the girl, are registered by the girl’s mother who then shares the list with the local police officer. Allegedly, after the visit, the police officer in question goes after the men and demands 3000AZN in exchange for being let go. He has since, received the money from at least 27 men.

In response, the Ministry of the Interior said it has launched an investigation into the abuse. However, it dismissed the allegations that the police were involved in installing the secret camera.

According to Nagi, once the issue was publicized on the social media platforms, local police tried relocating the mother and daughter from the village while the police officer who goes by the name of Elvin and was personally involved in the money extraction scheme, is still free.

This is not the first case or the only case Nagi has exposed.

Earlier this month (April 2021), a story of another girl, being raped by several residents of the Mirgurbanli village made the news on Facebook. According to the reports, the 9th grader was routinely raped by several men from the extended family and others. The girl’s guardians were her grandmother and aunt, who knew about the abuse but never reported it. In fact, one of the abusers was the uncle.

The Committee for Family, Women, and Children issued a statement on April 5 claiming they were investigating the reports of abuse and that the Ministry of the Interior was also involved in the investigation too.

The same day, the Prosecutor General office and the Ministry of the Interior said one man was arrested and sentenced to three months in pre-trial detention.

Domestic abuse is one of the biggest issues in Azerbaijan. According to Azerbaijan’s State Statistical Committee, at least 1,180 cases of domestic violence against women were reported in 2020. In 2019, there were 1,039. The real number is likely much higher, as domestic violence is often underreported while safety mechanisms in place, lack efficiency.

Last month, a group of volunteers and activists came together to help Sevinc Maharramova, a victim of domestic abuse, because police wouldn’t, not immediately anyway.

On March 21, Maharramova was beaten by her husband, with a wooden stick that has left Maharramova’s body covered with bruises and wounds. The victim ran away from her husband and sought refuge from a group of women activists. The activists reported the violence to Azerbaijani police but were told police won’t intervene until medical examination results. The examination was scheduled for March 23, two days after the incident occurred. When activists told the police that the victim’s two children, aged 3 and 4, are still with the abusive father who has threatened them with violence before, police told them to get the children on their own.

When the group of volunteers showed up at the victim’s house, the husband, refused to give away the children accusing the mother of being mentally unstable. He confessed to the crime that he committed and said he would serve whatever sentence he is given but for that, there is police and a trial. Until then he won’t budge. The conversation between the father and the activists who came with the victim was filmed by Toplum TV, an independent online news platform, and was shared on Facebook.

Speaking to Toplum TV, Gulnara Mehdiyeva, founder of a feminist collective of Azerbaijan who has provided assistance to the victim, said the group will consult a lawyer, and wait for the medical examination results of the victim.

Police response to Sevinc Maharramova’s story was striking, especially as the incident came weeks after the violent intervention of the police to disperse a crowd of women activists, who attempted to hold a peaceful march on International Women’s Day. In this case, police were quickly dispatched to the city center to prevent the march. Some 25 women activists were detained in total and released after questioning by the police.

The police intervention during the march and lack of any measures taken in a clear case of domestic abuse, illustrate, the disproportionate role police plays in the country.

There are only three shelters for victims of domestic violence operating in all of Azerbaijan, a country of 10 million people. There is also an 11-year-old law against domestic violence, but it’s rarely enforced. The Committee for Family, Women, and Children Affairs, activists say, are “not doing their job.”

In February, Azerbaijan was rocked by the news of 20-year-old Sevil Atakishiyeva who committed suicide as a result of domestic abuse. She was one of at least several women who were killed or committed suicide as a result of physical or psychological violence faced at home that month.

In recent years, activists have demanded Azerbaijan sign the Istanbul Convention, an agreement of European countries pledging to prevent violence against women and end impunity for perpetrators. By the convention, which Azerbaijan’s close ally Turkey has ratified, signatories must keep official statistics on gender-based crimes and offer victims financial compensation.

The Istanbul Convention is a heated topic of discussion in Azerbaijan, especially because it refers to the rights of same-sex couples. Conservatives in the country often postulate that such an agreement will “destroy” Azerbaijan’s traditions.

The horrific stories shared by activists as Nagi are a stark reminder that there are no traditions left and the abusers often roam free.

Azerbaijan/Turkey; authoritarian tech; information controls; safety of female journalists online; freedom of expression. All views my own.