Voices for Equality: Kyrgyzstan
For three years the world has watched as Russia’s infamous law banning propaganda of “nontraditional” relations among minors has drastically impacted the country’s LGBT community. Meanwhile, LGBT groups in countries from Eastern Europe to Central Asia have held their breath as their own lawmakers endeavor to follow Russia’s lead and introduce copycat legislation at home.
Case in point: Kyrgyzstan.
Although not the first country to consider a copycat bill, Kyrgyzstan may soon pass its most extreme incarnation. The legislation, which awaits its third and final reading in the country’s parliament, would not only target speech around any audience, as opposed to solely speech around minors, but it would also introduce jail terms.
For now, international human rights groups, the U.S. government, and local LGBT communities in the region watch and wait to see what happens next. Will the legislation be brought up for its final reading? Will it pass with the overwhelming support it received in the past? Will President Atambayev sign the bill into law? Right now, no one can say.
But members of the Kyrgyz LGBT community aren’t waiting, because they can’t. Despite the fact that bill is still only in the legislative process, police have reportedly already begun detaining people for violating it. Furthermore, police are not enforcing existing laws. Last year, community LGBT organizations reported multiple attacks on both their members and their offices—yet law enforcement did not investigate or arrest any suspects in the crimes.
The LGBT community fears that if the propaganda law is actually enacted, abuses against them will only escalate. As human rights defenders try to educate and address bigotry, the international community must stand with them by urging President Atambayev to veto this hateful legislation and honor his country’s human rights commitments.
What the U.S. government should do:
- Speak directly to the Kyrgyzstan government about the negative impact a propaganda law would have on the U.S.–Kyrgyzstan bilateral relationship.
- Work with NGOs on the ground, as well as supportive political leadership in Kyrgyzstan, on a countrywide strategy to prevent this law from moving forward and to discourage the introduction of other legislation that would negatively impact the rights of the LGBT community.
- Communicate with and support groups such as Labrys and Kyrgyz Indigo, who are the most effective voices for change in their country, including through material support.
- Partner with the Council of Europe to use its leverage, particularly given Kyrgyzstan’s status as a “Partner in Democracy,” to move Kyrgyzstan towards compliance with agreed-upon commitments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including for LGBT people.