A law with negative implications for Kyrgyzstan's repressed Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities is cruising through the national parliament, raising fears that the overall human rights situation in the country is about to deteriorate rapidly.
On October 15, lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan voted to adopt a law to punish those who create “a positive attitude toward non-traditional sexual relations.” On the bill's first reading, 79 parliamentarians voted for the bill, and only seven voted against it.
The proposed legislation would constitute one of the harshest anti-LGBT laws in the region, even stricter than Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law that critics accuse MPs of emulating. The bill, entitled “On Introducing Additions to Some Legislative Acts of the Kyrgyz Republic,” mandates high fines and jail time for anyone who “shares information on non-traditional sexual relationships.”
If passed into law following second and third readings in the coming months, the bill will limit freedom of speech and assembly for activists, journalists, and members of the LGBT community. In addition to subsequent readings the law must be signed by Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev to be passed into law. If Atambayev refuses to sign, the bill would then need a two-thirds majority in the parliament to overrule the executive. The bill was first brought to parliament in March 2014.
The law constitutes a major threat for Kyrgyzstan and its LGBT communities. Kyrgyzstan legalized homosexuality in 1998, after repealing an article from the Soviet Criminal Code. While Kyrgyzstan may never have been a truly safe haven for LGBT people, the country has been relatively more tolerant than its Central Asian neighbors. In recent years, however, it has grown increasingly dangerous to be openly gay in there. A January 2014 Human Rights Watch report cited increased instances of violence and police abuse against gay men in the republic.
Inspirations for the law: Putinism and Islam
Kurmanbek Dyikanbaev, the bill’s sponsor, told Radio Azattyk October 7: “We should protect the traditional family. The West is imposing their norm of same-sex families.” Dyikanbaev has also accused the West of encouraging homosexuality and corrupting Kyrgyzstan’s moral fabric.
A recent Vocativ film about the proposed law identified the increasing popularity of religion, specifically Islam, as a major source of anti-LGBT sentiment and a motive for the law. Over 75 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s population identifies as Muslim, and radicalism among young people is on the rise. This February, the Kyrgyz Spiritual Directorate issued a fatwa against homosexuals in Kyrgyzstan.
Although government officials called the fatwa unconstitutional, some activists see an increasing influence of Islamic norms within government. The Bakiyev administration, ousted in 2010, clamped down on Islamic religious expression. Though Kyrgyzstan remained secular in the most recent revision of its constitution, introduced shortly after Bakiyev's downfall, God and Islam have increasingly made their way into politicians’ speeches, according to a September 2014 PEN International report.
Russia’s increasing economic and political influence in Kyrgyzstan has also had an impact on the social environment in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan is “a perfect lab rat,” according to Masha Gessen, writing for the New York Times. “It is small and poor and extremely susceptible to Russian pressure.” Muzaffar Tursunov, a Kyrgyz journalist, echoed the view that Kyrgyzstan has been susceptible to ideology and legislation exported from Russia. Tursunov told Cathal Sheerin for a report for PEN International, that Kyrgyz politicians just “take their laws off the internet, replacing the word ‘Russian’ with ‘Kyrgyz.’”
Local and international reactions to the law
Several governments and human rights organizations condemned the October 15 vote. The U.S. Embassy expressed “deep concern” about the bill. The Embassy said in a statement, “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 also called on Kyrgyz lawmakers to “oppose legislation that would criminalize expressions of identity or limit civil society.”
Labrys asked supporters to create international pressure on Kyrgyzstan by organizing protests, petitioning for statements of disapproval from local governments (especially “non-western” states), and demanding international corporations to express concern. Activists also demanded that international donor organizations review their funding in a way that ensures recipient partners support human rights. The group also asked for sanctions against public homophobes who have expressed and encouraged hatred against LGBT. Finally, Labrys called for improved asylum rules for LGBT people who have been forced to flee their homes.
A small number of lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan continue to fight against the bill. Assiya Sasykbaeva, the Vice Speaker of the legislature, and Natalia Nikitenko, the chair of the human rights committee, were two of seven MPs who voted against the law. They referenced police violence against gays and the potential for the law to negatively affect human rights as reasons to object to the law.
Not all MPs voting against the bill took issue with Kyrgyzstan’s human rights record. Galina Skripkina, an MP who has called homosexuality a “disease,” may have voted against the law, but she reaffirmed her support of its overall goal. Skripkina’s conditional opposition to the bill bodes poorly for stopping the bill at future readings. “If the bill is properly designed from a regulatory perspective, then I’m all for it,” she said.