Man who ‘beheaded’ Azerbaijani LGBTQ+ journalist sentenced to nearly a decade in jail

Avaz Hafizli, an LGBT+ activist and journalist in Azerbaijan

A man who beheaded and cut the penis off an unwavering LGBTQ+ activist in Azerbaijan has been sentenced to nearly a decade in jail.

Warning – graphic violence.

Avaz Hafizli, who worked as a journalist for the news channel Kanal 13, was killed in his Baku home on 22 February. The openly gay man was found wrapped inside a rug and hauled to a morgue in the capital city in a “garbage truck”, activists said.

But the Baku Court of Grave Crimes has sentenced Hafizli’s own cousin, Amrulla Gulaliyev, to nine years and six months in prison for brutally murdering the 24-year-old, OC Media, which covers the Caucasus, reported Saturday (30 July).

“I told him to return to turn from this path [being gay] and he said: ‘It’s my life, go and do your job’,” Gulaliyev told the court. “I took a knife from the kitchen and attacked him.”

In Azerbaijan, murder carries a potential jail sentence of 10 years. Yet if the murderer is executed with significant cruelty, the sentence is doubled, according to the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan.

LGBTQ+ activists called on the court to hand down a tougher sentence on Gulaliyev, yet the court reportedly barring campaigners and even the press from entering during hearings.

As one of Azerbaijan’s most outspoken queer campaigners, Hafizli faced routine persecution from police forces. He called on the government to step up and better protect LGBTQ+ people, given that the nation sits at the very bottom of ILGA Europe’s Rainbow map ranking of LGBTQ+ rights in Europe.

In one of his most damning protests of the lack of LGBTQ+ hate crime protections in Azerbaijan, Hafizli chained himself to the gate of the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Avaz Hafizli chained to the gate of Azerbaijan's Prosecutor General’s Office

Avaz Hafizli chained himself to the gate of the Prosecutor General’s Office to protest for LGBTQ+ rights. (All Out)

Through his activism, Hafizli did what he could to ensure all people are treated with kindness and respect. In 2020, he arranged the funeral of a trans sex worker whose family refused to collect her body from the morgue after she was stabbed nearly a dozen times.

So Hafizli’s death has shuddered fear throughout Azerbaijani’s LGBTQ+ community, a friend of Hafizli’s told PinkNews.

She said: “The whole queer community is in panic now because this violence keeps being justified in the media and even praised by some politicians.”

How Gulaliyev severed Hafizli’s genitals off showed just how much he viewed LGBTQ+ people with contempt, another friend of Hafizli’s added.

“It is safe to say that the act itself was directed to Avaz’s identity as gay person,” he said. “If that is not a statement of ‘you are not a man’ then for what purpose [would they] cut off his penis?”

LGBTQ+ activist Lili Nazarov said in a statement that Hafizli “did his best for LGBT+ rights”.

“Avaz told me that he was scared when that happened,” Nazarov said.

“The culprits of his death are society, the Azerbaijani government and state security agencies … Every year, dozens of LGBTQI+ [people] are slaughtered because they are LGBTQI+.

“How many more people must be slain in order to guarantee our safety and rights?” they added. “Who will be killed next?”