The public is trying to decide whether this means fighting prostitution or something else
A ‘morality police’ will not appear in Baku, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Internal Affairs has announced.
The statement was made in response to the reception of the recent announcement of a new police patrol that will ‘counter amoral behaviour and behaviour opposed to the national mentality.’
“Moral police” will not appear in Baku, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Internal Affairs said. Just a misunderstanding arose.
After the announcement, the Azerbaijani public questioned just what this new patrol would look like and what its responsibilities would entail.
The ministry says that the patrol will not be a separate police department, but will be identifiable per its dress code and will be responsible for ‘removing women of easy virtue who offer tourists sexual services’ from the central streets.
In its initial statement, the ministry carefully avoided the word ‘prostitution.’
The initial wording caused much confusion:
“In view of the numerous appeals of citizens, the police removed women from the central streets of Baku who act contrary to national values and the mentality of the Azerbaijani people and make obscene offers to tourists.”
The head of the press service of the ministry, Ehsan Zakhidov, explains that these women were taken away from the central streets and warned.
Special police units have appeared in Baku to fight “issues contrary to the public sense of morality and national mentality”, but it’s not exactly clear what the police plan to do and who will be affected.
Who are these “activities of individuals with loose morals”
The special police outfits will be stationed mostly on main, central streets.
The decision to start ‘monitoring morality’ was made after “appeals from citizens living in the capital who had observed negative social occurrences”, reports Elshad Hajiyev, head of the press service of the Baku Main Police Department.
He says that in nightclubs, hotels and on the central streets of the capital “there are occurrences that conflict with the public sense of morality and ethics.”
The police have thus decided to suppress “behavior that does not comply with national and moral values” and the “activities of individuals with loose morals.”
Hajiyev does not elaborate on what falls into these categories.
Most perceived the move as a declaration of a war on prostitution.
Scepticism on social networks
The news was met with scepticism on Facebook.
The public sees the police’s attempt to tackle subjects that should not concern them – morality and ethics.
Here are some of the comments:
“Prostitution is one thing. But we are talking about ‘immoral behavior’ and ‘national mentality.’ This is something that does not exist”
“None of the brothels in Baku work without police protection. What are they going to do, fight themselves?”
“All this really means is that the price of prostitution will rise.”
How legal is it?
Human rights activist Eldar Zeynalov believes that special police units will also “hunt down” homeless people and beggars, but their main target will be sex workers.
Zeynalov says that this campaign is not about the struggle for morality, but rather the desire to receive “dividends” from sex workers:
“It is no secret that tourists from Arab countries employ the services of local sex workers quite often and pay generously. And when the tourist season is over, the girls have earned a fair amount of money, and now it’s time to share it with the police”, says Zeynalov.
Lawyer Asabali Mustafaev, in a comment to the Turan news agency, mentioned the fact that there is no legal definition of “public morality” or “national mentality,” and that any assessment of these concepts is subjective.
Under Azerbaijani law, brothel owners are only criminally liable for maintenance of the brothel, and for engaging in prostitution they face at worst a small fine.