Two years in prison for gay sex in Turkmenistan

An entertainer and multiple co-defendants in the central Asian nation of Turkmenistan were sentenced last month to serve prison terms for same-sex intimacy.

Turkmenistan is located on the east shore of the Caspian Sea, north of Iran and Afghanistan, south of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. (Map courtesy of the University of Texas at Austin)

The best-known defendant, “a famous entertainer, presenter and performer (named only by his initials G. S.)” was sentenced to two years.

Most media reports about the men’s arrests, trial and sentences provided few specifics.

The Central Asian news site Fergana.ru reported on May 25:

Turkmen presenter given two years in jail for homosexuality

A court in Ashgabat has sentenced a famous entertainer, presenter and performer (named only by his initials G. S.) to two years in jail on sodomy charges. Turkmen.news reports (in Russian) that the sentence was passed on 7 May but has only now become widely known.

According to Turkmen.news, several other men were also sentenced alongside the performer, though exactly how many was not stated. All are said to have signed confessions.

The arrests among the Turkmen show business and modelling industry elite are said to have been carried out during the second half of March, but were first reported in mid-April. According to Turkmen.news’s sources, several of those arrested were later able to buy their own release. Some participated in the trial as witnesses. The fact that the main defendant’s father is a famous Turkmen diplomat apparently failed to help him.

Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan remain the only countries in Central Asia where consensual private sexual relations between adult men are criminalised.

Human Rights Watch summarized that news on May 26:

In mid-March independent media in the region reported the arrest of a popular entertainer as well as those of numerous other men who move in Turkmenistan’s show-business world. Some were able to secure their release. On May 7, a Turkmen court sentenced the entertainer, and several others to two years’ imprisonment on sodomy charges. …

Turkmen News reported the news of the arrests in mid-April, with more detail. This is a modestly edited version of its Russian-language article, converted to English by Google Translate:

Scene in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. (Photo courtesy of orangesmile.com)

A well-known showman is arrested in Ashgabat. He is suspected of homosexuality

In the second half of March [in mid-April, HRW says], the well-known showman, artist and host G.S. was arrested in Ashgabat. The young man is suspected of homosexuality.

The information here was confirmed by several sources.

Together with G.S., about a dozen more people were arrested, including his boyfriend. Some of the detainees were able to pay money for their release. … The remaining detainees all face a prison term of up to two years in prison under article 135 of the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan, “Sodomy.”

Among the detainees, there were initially other famous people representing the elite of the Turkmen show business and the modeling industry. The editors of turkmen.news know the full names of at least three people, including G.S. For ethical reasons, the editors refrain from publishing them.

It is known that the men have lawyers, but it was difficult to convince the lawyers to act as the men’s advocates in this case [for fear that their reputations would be damaged]. …

At the investigation stage, persons suspected of homosexuality are subjected to an examination of the rectum and the area of ​​the anus are examined.

[Editor’s note: Such exams have been used in many nations in a mistaken belief that the intrusive tests can determine whether a man is homosexual. The UN Special Rapporteur on torture has said that forced anal examinations are “a practice that is medically worthless and amounts to torture or ill-treatment.”]

Often, police will call a person in for interrogation if they find his phone number in the address book of a person suspected of homosexuality.

Independence Park in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. (Photo courtesy of kabar.kg)

Background and context

Several reports of the incient described Turkmenistan’s history of repression of LGBTQ+ people.

Turkmen News:

In October and November last year, a case of the persecution of Turkmen homosexuals was that of Kasymbirda Garayev, a young Turkmen doctor who gave an anonymous interview to the Turkmen service of Radio Liberty. A few days after the publication of his story, the young man disappeared, and Radio Liberty published a video message from K. Garayev in case something happened to him. [See “A Turkmen Doctor Came Out And Now He (And His Family) Have Gone Missing” from Radio Liberty.]

Subsequently, the journalists of the radio and turkmen.news found out that everything was fine with the young doctor, that he was at home, but his family protected him from going online. Until December 31, Kasymberdy Garayev steadily posted New Year’s photos on his Facebook page, but after the advent of the new year there were no other publications. It is still unknown what is happening to him now.

Turkmen authorities reject criticism from the international community regarding the criminalization of same-sex relationships. In March 2017, when the UN Human Rights Committee considered the second periodic report of Turkmenistan on compliance with the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the head of the department for democracy and human rights at the Turkmen National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights under the President Shemshat Atadzhanova stated that Turkmenistan excludes the possibility of decriminalization of same-sex relations.

“This contradicts the Turkmen culture, the mentality of the Turkmen people, which is based on the traditional principles of the family, so making such changes to the legislation is unacceptable,” she said.

Fergana.ru also described Turkmenistan’s mistreatment of LGBTQ+ people:

A 2019 report (in Russian) entitled “The life of LGBT people in Turkmenistan”, published by the rights organisation Kyrgyz Indigo with the support of the international LGBTI rights organisation ILGA-Europe, gave some insight into current conditions for gay men in Turkmenistan. The report states that Turkmen police targeting gay men employ a standard method of entrapment: they arrange a date via an app or a dating site and then arrest their victims – but instead of pressing criminal charges, they normally try to extort money from the men and pressure them to help them find new targets.

“The LGBT community is fragmented into small groups, in which people trust one another but do not let ‘outsiders’ in,” said the author of an investigation by RFE/RL. According to the website’s interviewees, although sodomy has always been part of the country’s criminal code, no one made any particular effort to target gay men until a video was made public in 2011 showing a teacher at Ashgabat’s medical university having sex with two of his students.

“In 2012 everything changed. One after the other, friends and acquaintances disappeared, parents’ children went missing and they only found out later when all relatives were summoned to court and the young men were publicly tried and humiliated under article 135 part 1 (“Sodomy”). They arrested people at their workplaces or carried out raids on apartments. Everyone was scared and no one could help,” 41-year-old Dangatar told Kyrgyz Indigo.

The first gay man in Turkmenistan to come out publicly and make the issue of homosexuality in the country a topic of international discussion was Kasym Garayev. In 2019, he went missing after speaking to independent media outlets about his sexuality and the arrests, humiliations and attempts to “cure” him with the help of religious officials that he had endured. He reappeared only after international rights organisations took up his case, but then disavowed all of his previous statements, calling his public coming-out “a mistake” and assuring that everything was fine with him.

HRW not only reviewed Turkmenistan’s repressive stance toward LGBT people but also called for repeal of the nation’s anti-sodomy law.

Two Years in Prison for Gay Sex in Turkmenistan

Decriminalize Consensual Same-Sex Conduct

By Viktoriya Kim

In Turkmenistan, men who have sex with men continue to be arrested and imprisoned on sodomy charges. …

Turkmenistan is one of sixty-nine countries in the world that outlaw consensual sexual intercourse between men. [This blog’s count is 73 nations with such laws.] Article 135 of the criminal code stipulates penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment for sodomy and 5 to 10 years if repeated.

Turkmenistan’s strongman president, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

This blatantly discriminatory law, that violates Turkmenistan’s international human rights obligations, enables police to subject gay and bisexual men to harassment, including with the purpose of extortion, humiliation, and abuse.

Human Rights Watch documented a 2013 case in Turkmenistan, where medical staff collaborated with law enforcement officials to conduct an anal exam on an 18-year-old man accused of homosexual conduct. While not evidence of a pattern, the case raises the possibility that forced anal examinations have been or are being used against others charged with sodomy in Turkmenistan. Such examinations have no medical justification, are cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and may amount to torture. …

In 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Committee flagged criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct as “unjustifiable” and urged the Turkmen government to repeal it. Turkmenistan prides itself on its good standing in the United Nations. The government should immediately dismiss all charges against the men convicted under these laws and release them. Turkmenistan should also repeal article 135 of the criminal code and protect people from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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