- June 2, 2015
Post submitted by Georgina Rannard, the Jane Haining Congressional Fellow with the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice and Humanity in Action. She is finishing a PhD in Economic History.
On International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), LGBT activists in the Central Asian Republic Kyrgyzstan were attacked for attending a dinner and a same-sex wedding ceremony, which would not be legally recognized under local law.
Members of two radical nationalist movements, Kalys and Kyrk Choro, allegedly broke into the wedding to threaten guests. They filmed videos that were later posted on YouTube with titles ‘Dispersal of the Gays’ and ‘Kalys Crushes the Fags’. One wedding guest, Nurbek Qaibideen, told me that, “They were aggressive, filming us. They were screaming, calling for hatred and killings.”
Activists from two pro-LGBT organizations, Kyrgyz Indigo and Labrys, were detained by police as witnesses and were allegedly held for five hours without legal representation or food and water. Allegedly, police instructed some to reveal their genitals. Meanwhile, according to witnesses, their attackers walked freely around the station. Charges of “hooliganism” have been filed against Kalys and Kyrk Choro members, but these are widely believed to be symbolic. This type of biased justice is common in the post-Soviet Republic where being gay is not illegal, but social prejudice and state-sponsored violence, including by the police, are endemic.
Legislation mimicking the Russian ban on expressions of ‘non-traditional’ sexual relations is currently making its way through the Kyrgyz parliament. Kyrgyzstan remains politically and economically beholden to Russia, and this bill, which would criminalize events like the dinner and a same-sex wedding, passed a first reading in parliament in February. Radical conservative movements are now calling for an expedited second and third reading. These movements are strongly nationalist and anti-Western and believe that LGBT rights are an affront to ‘traditional’ Kyrgyz identity and norms. Some believe it is impossible to be Kyrgyz and to be LGBT. In a country beset with ethnic tension (a violent revolution in 2010 ousted a sitting government), the battleground over identity and culture is explosive. Although not all politicians agree with Member of Parliament Narynbek Malobaev in his call for public execution of LGBT people, the government is keen to avoid aggravating existing tension between foreign influence and eroding ‘traditional’ Kyrgyz identity and values.
Last week, however, international pressure prevailed when Kazakhstan’s anti-LGBT bill was overturned. Kyrgyzstan is highly dependent on American aid and investment from the World Bank, signaling that the U.S. government and international powers have a crucial role in pressurizing the Kyrgyz government to protect human rights.
The question on everybody’s mind in Bishkek now is: what will happen in a second and third reading of the bill. National elections take place in the fall, which could overshadow the bill or propel it as political theatre intensifies. Last week, the Kyrgyz President signed treaties ratifying the nation’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union, a currency union currently linking Russian, Kazakhstan and Belarus, further signaling Russia’s deepening regional hegemony.
Currently, the national mood indicates that the law will pass, but it is likely to face a series of revisions. One thing is clear: If the bill becomes law, attacks like those on IDAHOT will become more frequent, and LGBT activists and the LGBT community, under the new law, will be viewed as the criminals.