Kyrgyzstan votes for anti-gay ‘propaganda’ bill

By Tom Ana
Editor of Caucasus Equality News

Kyrgyz parliament (Jogorku Kenesh) building
Monumental building houses the Kyrgyz parliament (known as the Jogorku Kenesh)

The parliament of Kyrgyzstan voted today for an anti-gay “propaganda” bill modeled on Russia’s 2013 “gay propaganda” law.

The proposal, which still needs two votes in parliament and a presidential signature before becoming law, would outlaw all LGBT groups operating in the former Soviet country, as well as allowing possible prison sentences for individuals guilty of promoting “non-traditional” sexual relations. Critics of the bill have noted that the punishments for breaching the new laws are even harsher than current punishments being seen under Russia’s anti-“gay propaganda” law.

As a country, Kyrgyzstan has a largely conservative Islamic community, with around 80 percent of the population identifying as Muslim. The government of the country has maintained close ties to Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Anti-gay sentiment is common in Kyrgyzstan and concerns have been raised that this new bill would legitimise homophobia and hate crimes in the country. Earlier this year, the international group Human Rights Watch reported on Kyrgyz police subjecting LGBT men to physical and psychological torment and threats of violence. In response to those claims, the country’s Interior Ministry alongside leading religious figures failed to recognise the crimes and used the incident as a chance to voice further anti-gay hate speech.

Arrow indicates the location of Kyrgyzstan in central Asia.
Arrow indicates the location of Kyrgyzstan in central Asia.

Criticism of the bill has been seen internationally, with many LGBTI and human rights groups quickly condemning the bill when it first came to parliament. In an official statement made earlier this week, the United States embassy in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, said that if the bill were to pass it would cause serious damage to the nation’s civil society.

Support for the legislation was widespread among Kyrgyz lawmakers. The parliament passed the bill by 79-7.

Proponents of the legislation say it would provide support for “traditional families” and would combat the supposed damage done by Western ideologies supporting the LGBT community. Critics have however claimed that the bill’s authors, including Kremlin-backed Kurmanbek Dyikanbayev, are attempting to strengthen ties to Russia at the expense of sacrificing the LGBT community.

The parliament have recently been accused of pro-Russian political posturing in the run up to the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, which is set to begin in 2015 and which Kyrgyzstan is currently attempting to join. Similar criticisms were also raised regarding another Russian-inspired bill which would limit the activities of foreign NGOs by reducing the rights of “foreign agents.”

However, despite large-scale support for the bill in parliament, some parts of Kyrgyzstan were vocally against any proposed changes.

Responding to an earlier draft of the law, the Bishkek-based LGBT group Labrys stated that the new legislation contradicted the country’s current constitution. They also expressed fears that LGBT individuals would become further targets for violence after being denied what little support they still have when groups such as Labrys are forced to cease operation.

In response to the bill, Labrys launched a support campaign calling upon LGBTI supporters globally to condemn the actions of Kyrgyzstan’s government and to support the country’s LGBTI community. The group have expressed that they intend to fight the new laws with the support of the international community, though concerns have been raised over whether legal prosecution will force the group to close.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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