Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan have voted overwhelmingly to adopt a tougher version of Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law. The Kyrgyz version mandates jail terms for gay-rights activists and others, including journalists, who create “a positive attitude toward non-traditional sexual relations.”
The vaguely worded bill passed its first reading on October 15 with a vote of 79 to 7, AKIpress reported (the 120-seat legislature is rarely full). During a meeting last week to discuss the bill, one lawmaker said the draft is not tough enough and proposed to increase sentences from up to one year to three. If it passes two more readings, the bill will go to President Almazbek Atambayev – a staunch Russia ally – for his signature.
One of the bill’s authors, Kurmanbek Dyikanbayev, often sounds as if he is repeating Kremlin talking points. Dyikanbayev told Radio Azattyk last week that he sponsored the bill to protect Kyrgyzstan’s “traditional families.” He also blames Western democracy for moral degeneracy and for encouraging homosexuality.
Bishkek-based LGBT-rights organization Labrys, whose advocacy would be outlawed by the bill, notes that the legislation contradicts numerous human-rights provisions in Kyrgyzstan’s constitution. Nika Yuryeva of Labrys said she fears the bill will encourage more violence against the LGBT community.
In a detailed report released in January, Human Rights Watch described how Kyrgyz police subject gay and bisexual men to “physical, sexual, and psychological violence; arbitrary detention; and extortion under the threat of violence.” On occasion the abuse “rose to the level of torture,” the report said. In response, the Interior Ministry refused to acknowledge any problem and the country’s top cleric issued a fatwa against same sex relations, saying the government should be wary of “public organizations that disseminate social discord.”
The U.S. Embassy has expressed “deep concern” about the bill. “No one should be silenced or imprisoned because of who they are or whom they love. Laws that discriminate against one group of people threaten the fundamental rights of all people,” the Embassy said in an October 10 statement.
Kyrgyz legislators are also pushing for another copy-and-pasted Russian bill, which would stigmatize non-profits that receive foreign funding as “foreign agents”—a Soviet colloquialism for spies. The original law in Russia, passed in 2012, has silenced NGOs and, activists allege, been used selectively to close down Kremlin critics. One of the lead supporters in Kyrgyzstan, Tursunbai Bakir uulu, a former human rights ombudsman, told EurasiaNet.org last fall that the bill would protect Kyrgyzstan from foreign “sabotage” and “sexual emancipation.”
Many rights activists in Bishkek believe the bills’ backers are paid by the Kremlin, that Moscow wants to turn a pliant country once known as Central Asia’s “Island of Democracy” into a moral ally in its fight with the West. Journalist and gay-rights activist Masha Gessen, writing in the New York Times on October 5, said Kyrgyzstan is the “perfect lab rat: It is small and poor and extremely susceptible to Russian pressure.”
Several times this year, nationalist youth groups that appear to have considerable financial support have rallied against gay rights, at times using homophobic slurs to denounce human rights activists generally.