Rights groups urge Uzbekistan to end forced anal exams

Authorities in Uzbekistan have subjected at least six men to forced anal examinations between 2017 and 2021 in order to prosecute them for consensual same-sex relations, nine human rights groups said earlier this month. Forced anal examinations are a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that can amount to torture.

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

Human Rights Watch reported:

Uzbekistan: Forced Anal Testing in Homosexuality Prosecutions
President Should Immediately Prohibit Torturous Exams

…   The organizations – Council for Global Equality, the Eurasian Coalition on Health, Rights, Gender and Sexual Diversity, Freedom Now, Human Dignity Trust, Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, ILGA-Europe, the International Partnership for Human Rights, and Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany (LSVD) – urged President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to issue an immediate ban on these exams.

In the most recent case, under orders from Internal Affairs officials, doctors subjected two men to forced anal exams in early 2021. A Tashkent court sentenced both men to two years under house arrest, in part on the basis of medical reports purporting to find evidence of same-sex conduct. The men, who had lived together before the arrest, were ordered to serve their sentences in cities 500 kilometers apart and have been prohibited from using the internet.

“Forced anal examinations, and their use in seeking convictions for consensual same-sex conduct, are an appalling violation of basic rights that diminishes Uzbekistan’s efforts to make its poor human rights record a thing of the past,” said Neela Ghoshal, associate LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The Uzbek government has been vocal about its intent to make human rights reforms, yet persists in using a discredited, abusive procedure that amounts to torture.”

The Eurasian Coalition on Health, Rights, Gender and Sexual Diversity (ECOM) and the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) have documented at least four other cases between 2017 and 2020 in which men were subjected to forced anal exams, indicating a worrying pattern, the organizations said. One of the victims was sentenced to a year and a half of house arrest in 2020, while another was sentenced to prison time.

Forced anal exams, conducted purportedly to find “proof” of homosexual conduct, often involve doctors or other medical personnel inserting their fingers, and sometimes other objects, into the anus of the accused without their consent, in an attempt to determine whether the person has engaged in receptive anal intercourse. The World Health Organization has denounced the exams as a form of violence and torture.

The World Medical Association has called on medical professionals to stop conducting the exams, saying that it is “deeply disturbed by the complicity of medical personnel in these non-voluntary and unscientific examinations, including the preparation of medical reports that are used in trials to convict men and transgender women of consensual same-sex conduct.”

Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev (Photo courtesy of Kun.uz)

The verdict against the two men confirms that both were subjected to forced anal exams while in detention under article 120 of the criminal code, which punishes consensual same-sex conduct between men, a “crime” that carries over from Uzbekistan’s Soviet past, with up to three years in prison. The ruling relied in part on a medical examiner’s report suggesting that “bruises and superficial tears,” “radial turns” that are “slightly smooth,” and a “slightly weakened” anal sphincter tone were likely evidence of anal sex. The court ruling seems to rely on bogus theories popularized by an 1857 French medical text on how to identify a “habitual pederast” through anal examination.

There is clear medical consensus that such antiquated theories lack any scientific basis. The Independent Forensic Experts Group (IFEG), composed of forensic medicine specialists from around the world, has condemned forced anal examinations, stating that “The examination has no value in detecting abnormalities in anal sphincter tone that can be reliably attributed to consensual anal intercourse.”

Men in Uzbekistan who engage in consensual same-sex sexual conduct face arbitrary detention, prosecution, and imprisonment as well as homophobia, threats, and extortion. The Uzbek government acknowledged in April, in response to a media inquiry, that more than 40 men were convicted under the law between 2016 and 2020.

Uzbek authorities led by the Prosecutor’s General Office recently drafted a new criminal code, but have not proposed repealing Article 120. Instead, the prohibition on same-sex relations appears in the draft under article 154, in a section of the code related to “crimes against morality and family.”

Uzbekistan’s prohibition of same-sex relations violates fundamental rights protected under international law, such as to privacy and bodily autonomy, and is discriminatory. Only two states that were part of the former Soviet Union, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, still criminalize consensual same-sex conduct. Turkmenistan, which has also carried out forced anal examinations in at least one case that Human Rights Watch documented, told the UN Human Rights Committee in 2020 that it would reconsider its law punishing consensual sexual conduct between men with up to three years in prison.

Uzbekistan’s reliance on forced anal examinations as evidence in prosecutions for consensual same-sex conduct adds a sense of urgency to the call to decriminalize consensual same-sex conduct, the human rights organizations said.

“Uzbekistan should uphold its international human rights obligations by immediately banning forced anal exams, which the president can do with the stroke of a pen,” said Yuri Yoursky, human rights and legal issues coordinator at the Eurasian Coalition on Health, Rights, Gender and Sexual Diversity. “The government should follow up by removing antiquated criminal code provisions against consensual sexual relations, which violate human rights on face value and contribute to other violations such as the forced anal exams.”

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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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