Breaches of Privacy: Why are sex tapes used against political targets in Azerbaijan?

Multiple videos with intimate footage have been disseminated on social media in March.
On March 28, intimate videos of National Council Chair Jamil Hasanli’s daughter, Gunel Hasanli, were shared on social media.

Hasanli, an oppositional figure long a target of the ruling government, condemned the publication publicly, stating that his daughter’s private life was no one’s business.

As it turns out, not only were the videos taken without Ms. Hasanli’s knowledge, but they seem to have been part of a plot to entrap her in order to use the images to defame her father.

The man whom she had been seeing, and who had introduced himself to her as Mahir Allahverdiyev when they met in late 2020, has since disappeared. Before the video began being shared, Ms. Hasanli says he had stated his intent to marry her.

What started out as a love story has now been uncovered to have been a scam, all with the intent of ruining Ms. Hasanli and her father’s reputation.

Yet Ms. Hasanli is not the only woman being targeted with intimate footage.

Many activists have lately had footage of them or faked footage of them publicized in what can only be understood as an attempt to disparage them.

Years prior, investigative journalist Khadija Ismayil also had footage of her leaked. The European Court of Human Rights later found the investigation of the crime by authorities inadequate.

Psychologist Shabnam Sadigova believes that the effect these videos can have on one’s reputation come from the taboo sex has in Azerbaijani society, saying “[sex] is the most frequently used form of manipulation [in Azerbaijan]”.

Sadigova labels Azerbaijani society as almost “voyeuristic” in its relationship to such topics.

But if social media users’ reactions are any indicator of Azerbaijani society’s values, it appears that the Hasanli video did not have its intended effect. After Jamal Hasanli’s post on Facebook in support of his daughter, a hashtag for privacy rights was born.

Due to the profiles of those targeted, many, including Jamal Hasanli, assume the government is behind the videos, and spoke out against such personal attacks on their social media profiles.

For now, it is still unclear who the man Gunel Hasanli was in contact with was. Also unclear is who else was behind the illegal filming, and if the police will conduct a thorough investigation.

If Khadija Ismayil’s case is any precedent, the answer may very well be no.

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