(Bishkek) – Police in Kyrgyzstan have extorted, threatened, arbitrarily detained, beaten, and sexually abused gay and bisexual men, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Although consensual sex between men was decriminalized in Kyrgyzstan in 1998, police target gay and bisexual men for violence and extortion, Human Rights Watch found.
The 65-page report, “They Told Us We Deserved This: Police Violence against Gay and Bisexual Men in Kyrgyzstan,” found that gay and bisexual men have been subjected to a range of abuses at the hands of police in Kyrgyzstan, including physical, sexual, and psychological violence; arbitrary detention; and extortion under the threat of violence or of exposing victims’ sexual orientation to friends and family. The report is based on detailed interviews with 40 gay and bisexual men in four regions of Kyrgyzstan. The government should condemn and thoroughly investigate reports of abuse and establish a confidential complaint mechanism for all cases of abuse by police officers.
“Gay and bisexual men in Kyrgyzstan already live in fear due to widespread homophobic attitudes, and the police are making a nightmarish situation even worse,” said Anna Kirey, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Kyrgyzstan authorities at the very top levels need to call a halt to this police abuse and make sure that gay and bisexual men have the protection they need.”
Violence, blackmail, and extortion by police, and a lack of accountability for these crimes are all too common in Kyrgyzstan. But those who belong to minority groups are particularly vulnerable. Gay and bisexual men are easy targets for abuse because of the population’s deep social conservatism.
Kyrgyzstan police target gay and bisexual men in parks, gay clubs, hotel rooms, and on dating websites. Human Rights Watch documented cases of severe physical violence against gay and bisexual men including punching, kicking, and beating with gun butts, batons, empty beer bottles, or other objects. Several gay men also reported sexual violence by police officers including rape, group rape, and attempts to put a stick, a hammer, or an electric shock device in the person’s anus, as well as gratuitous touching during a search, or being forced to undress in front of police.
Fathullo F. (not his real name), 32, told Human Rights Watch that in May 2012 he went to what he thought was a date with another man. When he arrived at the meeting place, police officers grabbed and handcuffed him. They took him to a police station, where they beat him to force him to write a confession and to give them contact information for his employer and his family. He said the officers threatened to initiate a criminal sodomy case against him unless he gave them money and contact information of other gay men, and that he suspected they wanted to target these other men for extortion.
“The officers told me that people like me do not deserve to be on face of the earth,” Fathullo told Human Rights Watch. “I asked them to let me sit down because I was tired. They said that I didn’t deserve to use their chair and spat on me. They said that I didn’t deserve to live, and threatened to destroy me if I didn’t give them 10,000 soms [US$214].”
In another case, Demetra D., 32, from Bishkek told Human Rights Watch that in four separate incidents between 2004 and 2011, police officers took him into custody and raped him, attempted to rape him, or allowed other detainees to rape him.
Only two of the 40 men Human Rights Watch interviewed had filed complaints with the police. Neither case led to anyone being held accountable for the abuse. The others said they did not file complaints for fear of retaliation or of having information about their sexual orientation sent to their families or employers. Human Rights Watch has not been able to find a single case in which a police officer has been held accountable for the arbitrary detention, extortion, torture, or ill-treatment of a gay or bisexual man.
The government of Kyrgyzstan has taken a number of measures to stop torture and ill-treatment in detention facilities, but have no mechanism to file complaints about police abuse for people who are not incarcerated. The government should establish an independent mechanism to which any victim of police abuse, including gay and bisexual men, can turn without fear of their privacy being violated.
“Police officers in Kyrgyzstan know that they can beat, rape, and otherwise torment gay men and extort money from them without suffering any consequences,” Kirey said. “Nobody should live in fear because of whom they love. Kyrgyzstan’s authorities need to put a stop to police abuse of gay men.”
It was the worst thing for me when they threatened to tell my family. I have brothers who are very religious. One word and this would be death [for me]. I wrote what the police told me to write. I was scared that they would tell my family. I wrote my name and address. I didn’t know what to do. They let me go after I said that I could give them 3,000 soms (US$60). They threatened me and then let me go [get the money]. I had to lie to my mom to get this money. I went back to the station and gave the money to the police. I asked for my statement, and they handed it to me and insisted I tear it up in their presence.
– Isroil I. (not his real name), a victim of police abuse and extortion
The police said, ‘Are you a faggot? Why do you come here?’ Then they pointed a gun at me and showed their IDs. One of them hit me in the temple and I fell on their car. They threw me in the car and drove around for some time. They said they would drown me in a canal if I didn’t give them US$600. In the car they hit me in the head with the handle of the gun. Then took me to the police station, kicked me some more, and said that they would call my mom and tell her about the kinds of clubs I visit.
– Maksim Bratukhin, head of the Bishkek-based LGBT rights group Pathfinder, who said that several police officers detained and beat him, and threatened him with death after he left a gay nightclub in Bishkek in April 2008.