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Kyrgyzstan Readies to Ban LGBT ‘Propaganda’

On Wednesday, the parliament of the small Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan voted overwhelmingly in favor of a harsh bill that would criminalize LGBT "propaganda" — potentially leaving the door open for widespread human rights abuses. Similar to legislation that made waves in Russia in 2013, the Kyrgyz law would crack down on the spread ...

VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/GettyImages
VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/GettyImages

On Wednesday, the parliament of the small Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan voted overwhelmingly in favor of a harsh bill that would criminalize LGBT "propaganda" — potentially leaving the door open for widespread human rights abuses.

Similar to legislation that made waves in Russia in 2013, the Kyrgyz law would crack down on the spread of any LGBT-related information. However, the Kyrgyz version advocates even harsher punishments, including prison sentences and fines for expressing positive attitudes toward the LGBT community. Despite its similarities to the Kremlin’s law, Kyrgyzstan’s version appears to be domestic creation.

"This bill should be seen in the context of Kyrgyzstan’s struggle to define its religious and national identity," says Mihra Rittmann, a Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch based in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. Only an independent country since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has had difficulty finding its footing and recently began looking deep into its past and drawing on its tribal and nomadic history. Islam is also exerting itself more strongly throughout Kyrgyz society. Though officially a secular nation, the country, which is 86 percent Muslim, is increasingly turning to "traditional values" to define itself, with same-sex relations becoming the latest target.

"Among lawmakers and the public, the predominant view is that being Kyrgyz and LGBT are incompatible with one another," Rittmann said. "This view is leading to widespread discrimination and even violence against the LGBT community."

In January, Human Rights Watch published a major report on how LGBT citizens in Kyrgyzstan had been subjected to human rights abuses. The report found a range of physical, sexual, and psychological violence, including extortion, arbitrary detention, and attacks — often at the hands of the police. The in-depth investigation also found that lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender men faced violence and discrimination from their families.

The bill would not only amend the country’s criminal code, but would also require changes to the "law on peaceful assembly" and the "law on mass media," which could expand its implications beyond the LGBT community. A key provision would criminalize anyone found creating "a positive attitude toward non-traditional sexual relations." The vague wording could open the door toward violating the rights of journalists reporting on LGBT discrimination and civil society groups that work with the country’s LGBT community.

"There is a growing conservatism and an authoritarian backslide throughout much of Central Asia at the moment," says Luca Anceschi, a Central Asia expert at the University of Glasgow. "Kyrgyz society is trending against recognizing LGBT rights and the country’s politicians are looking to capitalize off this rising homophobia."

Given that sentiment and the populism that has become the political tactic du jour, the legislation looks poised to pass without resistance. Parliament must vote two more times before the bill would move to the president for his signature, which looks likely to happen given that the legislation passed 79 to 7 on its first reading in parliament.

Reid Standish is a journalist based in Helsinki, Finland. He was formerly an associate editor at Foreign Policy. @reidstan

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