Secretary Kerry Should Raise Concerns over Kyrgyz Propaganda Bill During Trip to Central Asia
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First called on Secretary of State John Kerry to publicly urge the Kyrgyz government to reject a proposed anti-LGBT propaganda law during his trip to Central Asia this week. Secretary Kerry is scheduled to visit several Central Asian countries, including Kyrgyzstan, following a series of meetings in Austria. Kyrgyzstan’s proposed propaganda law, which if signed into law would be a major setback for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the region, has passed two readings in the Kyrgyz parliament and will likely have its third and final reading in the new parliamentary session.
“Secretary Kerry’s trip comes at a time when Kyrgyzstan’s extremely harsh homophobic bill is on the precipice of becoming law, and presents a key opportunity to demonstrate U.S. leadership in advancing human rights protections in Central Asia,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “We urge Secretary Kerry to speak forcefully and directly with leaders in Kyrgyzstan about the dangerous consequences of this bill, which would be a major setback for human rights in the region.”
In late September Secretary Kerry met with Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Erlan Abdyldaev to discuss issues of security and economic development, and he reportedly did not raise concerns over threats to the human rights of LGBT people in Kyrgyzstan. Secretary Kerry is set to travel to Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, becoming the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit all five Central Asian republics on the same trip. While in Bishkek, Kerry is scheduled to speak at the opening of the new American University of Central Asia on October 31.
In recent months, reports of violence and discrimination against LGBT people in Kyrgyzstan have escalated. Additionally, civil society groups and human rights activists have been targeted by the Kyrgyz government for investigations into their receipt of foreign funding.
The proposed propaganda bill emulates Russia’s infamous law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” but would allow for more severe penalties, including the possibility of jail time. If passed, the bill would ban the existence of LGBT organizations, shutter gay clubs, and most notably, could result in one-year prison sentences for those found guilty of propagating non-traditional sexual relations. It would limit the speech, expression, and freedom of assembly of activists, civil society leaders, journalists, and members of the LGBT community by criminalizing public expression and events that contain information about “non-traditional sexual relations.” The bill must be approved on three readings and signed by Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atrambayev to become law.
The Kyrgyz Minister of Justice issued an official statement in June expressing opposition to the propaganda bill. This followed a May bipartisan letter from 23 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives urging the Kyrgyz parliament to reject the propaganda bill. The U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan has publicly condemned the proposed law and European Union officials have decried the bill as one of the most “sweeping anti-propaganda bills ever published.”
“With neighboring Kazakhstan poised to reintroduce similar legislation, the human rights of LGBT people needs to remain at the core of U.S foreign policy. We urge the secretary to prioritize these concerns in his meetings, and stress to Kyrgyz leadership that passage of this bill will negatively impact the U.S.-Kyrgyzstan relationship,” added Gaylord.
Human Rights First continues to urge the U.S. government work to prevent the spread of Russian-style propaganda laws in the surrounding region. Human Rights First’s blueprint, “How to Stop Russia from Exporting Homophobia” details how Russia’s homophobic laws and policies have spread throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and outlines key steps that the U.S. government can take to stop the spread of laws and policies that infringe on the human rights of the LGBT community.