Kyrgyzstan’s parliament on June 24 voted almost unanimously to approve a sweeping anti-gay bill that rights activists call an open invitation to attack gays and lesbians.
The bill is a tougher version of the so-called “gay propaganda” law Russian President Vladimir Putin signed in 2013. It mandates up to a year in prison for vaguely defined offences, such as forming a “positive attitude toward nontraditional sexual relations.”
Parliament must vote one more time, but the overwhelming support today – legislators voted 90-2 in favor, Kloop.kg reports – suggests ratification is mere formality.
The Central Asian country decriminalized homosexuality in 1998, but violence against the community, including from the police, has “visibly increased” since the draft law was introduced last year, the Bishkek-based advocacy group Labrys has said.
“The law will effectively make it illegal to advocate for, provide information about, or organize a peaceful assembly” in support of gay, lesbian and transgender peoples’ rights, Labrys said in a February statement. “Even a public act of ‘coming out’ could be considered ‘propaganda’ and result in a prison term for up to a year.”
The bill passed its first reading in October by a vote of 79 to 7 and then stalled over the winter as activists blasted its vague wording. But little had changed in the draft voted on today. After a third vote, it will go to President Almazbek Atambayev for his signature. He has said nothing to suggest he will use his veto.
The bill comes amid an upsurge in what some researchers call “political homophobia” since the Kremlin made homosexuality a central feature in its moral battle with the West. Kyrgyz lawmakers frequently repeat talking points they could have heard on Russian state television. They also voted this month in favor of a so-called “foreign agents” law modeled on Russia’s, which would have a chilling effect on Kyrgyzstan’s vibrant civil society.
Defending the antigay bill in February, lawmaker Baktybek Kalmamatov called gays and lesbians “ill” and said that openly gay people should be jailed. In a recorded tirade posted online, Kalmamatov, 31, said gay people hurt him and his family, that he hates them, and that they should not be allowed into restaurants.
The bill has attracted widespread international condemnation. In January, the European Parliament said it contradicts Kyrgyzstan’s constitution and warned that its adoption could hurt EU-Kyrgyz relations.
The United Nations has called on parliament to reject the bill, which it said “stand[s] in stark contrast to both domestic and international law.”
“The bill also contains vague wording that may cover an unlimited range of actions and foresees punishment regardless of the results of such actions,” the UN said, adding that its passage could “have repercussions” on the amount of aid the UN provides to Kyrgyzstan.
But the international community is treading carefully, aware that homophobia seems to flourish among nationalists on the lookout for anything they can brand as foreign influence.
One of the loudest voices arguing for an anti-gay law is Jenishbek Moldokmatov, the head of the nationalist group Kalys, who has organized rallies against gay rights and reportedly offered rewards for catching pedophiles (anti-gay zealots in the former Soviet Union often confuse pedophilia with homosexuality).
Moldokmatov – who claims to have studied in Europe and calls himself a “student of democracy” – told EurasiaNet.org last fall that he started lobbying against gay rights after Human Rights Watch released a damning report in January 2014 detailing police abuse and sexual violence against gay people. As the rights of gay people became a national conversation, he says he was sickened when he saw a man come out on television. “A person can be gay, but it is not necessary to say so out loud. For me propaganda is saying that [being gay] is normal,” said Moldokmatov, 32.
“We Kyrgyz people have our own customs and traditional values and homosexual relationships contradict these values.”