January 29, 2014

I. Background

Climate of Homophobia

Kyrgyzstan decriminalized consensual sex between men in 1998, with the adoption of a new criminal code.[1] Despite decriminalization, there remains a strong social taboo against homosexuality. Before Kyrgyzstan became independent in 1991, only 0.1 percent of men were not married by the age of 50.[2] Current data on this trend is not available, but cultural pressure to enter a heterosexual marriage remains strong. Social expectations, particularly in rural areas, also promote masculine gender expression, which includes short hair, wearing dark colors, and demonstrating physical strength.[3]  For those who do not conform to these expectations, including many gay and bisexual men, life can be difficult. It is against strong social conformity that a climate of homophobia in Kyrgyzstan emerges.

Violence Against LGBT People

The scope of this report is limited to documenting violence and extortion against gay and bisexual men by police, but LGBT people and activists may also face violence, discrimination, and harassment by members of their families and the public.

For example, from January through August 2013, the Bishkek-based LGBT organizations Labrys and Kyrgyz Indigo documented at least 11 attacks on lesbian, gay and bisexual people based on their sexual orientation. Of these, five gay men and two lesbians were victims of police abuse.  Police arbitrarily detained all five of the gay men in public places and forced them under threat of disclosure of their sexual orientation to hand over money. The police detained the two lesbians who were in a park, filmed them while they asked them personal questions, and forced them to pay 4,000 soms (US$ 80) in order for the police to delete the videos. In four other cases, the perpetrators were unidentified assailants. In one case from July 2013, four men followed a 20-year-old gay man as he left a store, dragged him into a nearby botanical garden in Bishkek, and raped and beat him, breaking his hand and giving him a concussion. The man did not report this incident to the police.[4]

Two LGBT activists were also victims of homophobic attacks in the first half of 2013. On March 11, 2013, five men attacked Nazik Abylgazieva, the executive director of the Bishkek-based LGBT organization Labrys, at a disco. One attacker hit her with a glass bottle, giving her a concussion. When police arrived they told Abylgazieva that she should not expect anything less from perpetrators because she is a lesbian.[5] The police registered Abylgazieva’s complaint but did not proceed with an investigation.

In a separate case, on May 27, 2013, five waiters in a restaurant in Osh harassed a group of gay men, including four gay men from Osh, a Labrys board member, and three employees of the Bishkek-based LGBT rights NGO Kyrgyz Indigo, all of whom were visiting Osh. The waiters followed the group, called them “fags,” and told them that gays were “not welcome” in their restaurant. One of the waiters punched the Labrys board member in the jaw. The men did not report the incident to the police, out of fear for their safety.  The man from Osh moved to Bishkek fearing further violence.[6]

Limiting Free Expression on LGBT Issues

The Kyrgyzstan authorities have limited free expression on LGBT issues in certain instances. In September 2012, the general prosecutor’s office ordered organizers of a film festival to refrain from screening the film I am Gay and Muslim. The State Committee on Religious Affairs assessed the content of the film to be “extremist,” “offensive to Muslims,” and “inciting inter-religious hatred.”[7] Human rights defender and film festival organizer Tolekan Ismailova received threats from religious groups and was ridiculed in the media for including the film in the festival’s program. Ismailova appealed the decision to quash the film screening, but the Supreme Court has repeatedly postponed  hearings on this case.[8]

Police Abuse and Corruption in Kyrgyzstan

Human Rights Watch and other international and domestic human rights groups have documented persistent police abuse in Kyrgyzstan. Minority groups, including ethnic Uzbeks, drug users[9], sex workers[10], as well as LGBT people[11], are particularly vulnerable to violence and extortion on the part of law enforcement officials.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has reported that it received reports about arbitrary arrests, extortion and abuse by police in Kyrgyzstan throughout 2012. Following his December 2011 mission to Kyrgyzstan, UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, concluded that the “use of torture and ill-treatment to extract confessions remains widespread.”[12]  Mendez identified the following forms of torture as a pattern: asphyxiation with plastic bags, punches and beatings with truncheons, the application of electric shock and the introduction of foreign objects into the anus, or the threat of rape.[13] In its concluding observations after a review of Kyrgyzstan in November 2013, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) stated that it is “deeply concerned about the ongoing and widespread practice of torture and ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty, in particular while in police custody to extract confessions.”[14]

The OSCE secretary general’s 2012 report on police-related activities across the OSCE area noted that Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs demonstrated “limited commitment” to addressing allegations of human rights abuses and prioritizing an internal mechanism to address these allegations.[15] According to one expert who has analyzed the OSCE police reform project in Kyrgyzstan and other countries in Central Asia, officials of Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs have “consistently ignored the importance of improving human rights,” as part of the police reform process. The expert stressed that more should be done to involve community leaders, NGOs, local governments, and political leaders in shaping police reform.[16]  

According to Voice of Freedom, a human rights organization in Kyrgyzstan working on torture and other rights issues, in 2012 the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan registered 371 complaints of torture. In 340 cases, investigators refused to open criminal investigations into the complaints. Twenty cases were sent to court; but only 11 police officers were convicted.[17]

Non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations also report that police corruption is widespread.[18]  The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kyrgyzstan highlighted corruption within law enforcement in its proposed strategy for law enforcement reform for 2013-2017.[19]

International and NGO Engagement in Police Reform

International actors have highlighted concern about the widespread problem of ill-treatment and torture in discussions of Kyrgyzstan’s human right record, including the prevailing climate of impunity for those abuses. For instance, the US government has on a number of occasions expressed concern about widespread use of torture in Kyrgyzstan.[20]

For many years, international donors, including the OSCE, the EU, and the United States government, as well as civil society groups in Kyrgyzstan, have undertaken police reform projects on a range of issues including torture prevention. 

The OSCE Center in Bishkek in a letter to Human Rights Watch stated that “ill-treatment and torture in detention remains a major human rights concern in Kyrgyzstan.”[21] The work of the center is aimed at strengthening  public oversight of police work and cooperation with NGOs and the government of Kyrgyzstan to achieve this goal. Regarding the rights of LGBT people, the letter noted that there is no consensus among OSCE participating states about the inclusion of “sexual orientation” as grounds for protection from discrimination, and that therefore, the OSCE has never made explicit commitments regarding LGBT people’s rights.  However, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) collects information about hate crimes against LGBT people. [22]

The Regional Office for Central Asia (ROCA) of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) prioritized the establishment of a national preventative mechanism to address torture and improve policies around ethnic minority rights[23].  ROCA has been instrumental in engaging with the government of Kyrgyzstan on drafting of a National Preventative Mechanism.[24]

None of these police reform programs specifically address, include, or even mention the rights and vulnerabilities of LGBT people.  However, LGBT organizations and international HIV prevention groups do engage with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In 2012 and 2013, the Kyrgyz LGBT organizations Labrys and Kyrgyz Indigo conducted trainings for police academy cadets about the particular vulnerabilities of LGBT people.

Currently there are two civil society initiatives underway which are aimed at improving the quality of police work. One of them is run by the Citizen Union for Reform and Result,a coalition of 24 NGOs from different parts of Kyrgyzstan that has developed an “alternative concept of police reform” and is cooperating with the Ministry of Internal Affairs to implement its plans. The other initiative developed guidelines for the police for interacting with groups that are vulnerable to HIV.  However, neither of these initiatives specifically addresses police abuses against LGBT people.

The “alternative concept of reform” mostly focuses on restructuring the Ministry of Internal Affairs, improving professional police training and hiring practices, and ensuring closer cooperation between civil society and the ministry.[25] In July 2013, the Citizen Union For Reform and Result also initiated a project that would allow individuals and NGOs to report police abuse using an interactive website called the Kyrgyzstan Security Map.[26] The map will be used to document abuses committed by the police and to enhance the efforts of human rights groups reporting and advocating issues related to police abuse. The Citizen Union For Reform and Result has signed agreements with law enforcement bodies, prosecutor’s offices, and the mayors’ offices in Bishkek and Osh to each dedicate one staff member to respond to complaints lodged via the interactive map.[27] 

Since 2009, HIV prevention NGOs in Kyrgyzstan, in cooperation with AIDS Foundation East-West and the Soros Foundation – Kyrgyzstan, have engaged with the Ministry of Internal Affairs to develop police Instruction 417, a directive that would create “a favorable climate for the participation of vulnerable groups in HIV prevention and harm reduction programs.”[28]  The directive states that police officers should not “discriminate and infringe on rights of vulnerable groups, [display] rudeness or actions or words that would violate their honor and dignity, […] [and should] act without expressing any negative feelings and in all cases remain peaceful and calm.”[29]

However, according to experts involved in the development of the directive, while police have implemented it with respect to certain vulnerable groups such as drug users and sex workers, they have not yet implemented it with respect to gay and bisexual men.[30]

These efforts demonstrate that certain changes in addressing police abuse in Kyrgyzstan through specific policing reforms are possible and under way. 

LGBT Rights Activism

Despite a pervasively negative climate for LGBT rights, marked by threats and harassment of members of the LGBT community, at least 11 LGBT organizations or projects addressing gay and bisexual men’s rights and other issues exist in Kyrgyzstan. Six of these groups are located in Bishkek, two in the northern city of Talas, two in the southern city of Osh and one in Karabalta, near Bishkek. In recent years, these groups have made significant strides in making LGBT rights in Kyrgyzstan more visible nationally and internationally.

In addition, in 2012, for the first time, the former ombudsman of Kyrgyzstan, Tursunbek Akun, added a section on LGBT rights to his annual human rights report. The public response to the ombudsman’s decision to discuss LGBT rights was largely negative, however.  One independent political scientist claimed that Kyrgyzstan’s “society is not ready to have problems of sexual minorities considered at such a high level. The population in general is very critical of this category of citizens,” and called on the Office of the Ombudsman to prioritize other human rights violations.[31] Current Kyrgyzstan Ombudsman Baktybek Amanbayev noted that he is committed to protecting LGBT people’s rights like those of any other citizens of Kyrgyzstan.[32]

[1] Criminal Code of Kyrgyzstan(with amendments of November 1, 2013), http://online.adviser.kg/Document/?doc_id=30222833 (accessed August 27, 2013).

[2]World Bank, “Kyrgyz Country Case Study,” World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development, 2011, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWDR2012/Resources/7778105-1299699968583/7786210-1322671773271/Ibraeva_Kyrgyz_case_study_final_Sept2011.pdf (accessed July 30, 2013).

[3] Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Daniyar Orsekov and Danik Kasmamytov, September 18, 2013.

[4]Cases documented by Labrys and Kyrgyz Indigo on file with Human Rights Watch.

[5] Human Rights Watch interview with Nazik Abylgazieva, Bishkek, March 11, 2013.

[6]Human Rights Watch interview with Dastan Kasmamytov, Bishkek, June 17, 2013.

[7]“Kyrgyzstan: Film Ban Violates Free Speech,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 4, 2012, http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/10/04/kyrgyzstan-film-ban-violates-free-speech.

[8]Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Tolekan Ismailova, August 7, 2013.

[9] Leo Beletsky et al., “Policy reform to shift the health and human rights  environment for vulnerable groups: The case of

Kyrgyzstan's Instruction 417,” Health & Human Rights: An International Journal, vol. 14 (2012), pp. 34-48.

[10] Sex Workers Rights Advocacy Network, “Arrest the Violence: Human Rights Violations Against Sex Workers in 11 Countries in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia,” November 2009.

[11] LGBT organization Labrys and Sexual Rights Initiative submission to the UN Human Rights Council, May 2010, http://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/Session8/KG/JS1_UPR_KGZ_S08_2010_JointSubmission1.pdf (accessed August 20, 2013); Latypov et al., “Prohibition, stigma and violence against men who have sex with men: effects on HIV in Central Asia,” Central Asian Survey, vol. 32 (2013), p.6; and Open Society Foundations, “Access to Health Care for LGBT People in Kyrgyzstan,” July 2007, http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/kyrgyzstan_20071030.pdf (accessed December 17, 2013).

[12]UN Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez, Visit to Kyrgyzstan, A/HRC/19/61/Add.2, February 21, 2012, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session19/A-HRC-19-61-Add2_en.pdf (accessed December 17, 2013).

[13] Ibid.

[14]UN Committee against Torture, Concluding observations on the second periodic report of Kyrgyzstan, CAT/C/SR.1205, November 12, 2013, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CAT/Shared%20Documents/KGZ/CAT_C_KGZ_CO-2_15828_E.doc (accessed December 17, 2013).

[15] OSCE, “Annual Report of the Secretary General on Police-Related Activities in 2012,” SEC.DOC/1/13, August 2, 2013, http://polis.osce.org/library/f/4072/3789/OSCE-AUT-RPT-4072-EN-3789 (accessed August 22, 2013), p. 137.

[16] Erica Marat, “OSCE Police Reform Programmes in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan: Past Constraints and Future Opportunities,” EU-Central Asia Policy Monitor, October 2012, http://www.fride.org/download/PB_27_Eng.pdf (accessed July 23, 2013); Open Society Foundations, “Reassessing the Role of OSCE Police Assistance Programming in Central Asia,” April 2011, http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/OPS-No-4-20110411.pdf (accessed December 17, 2013), p.52.

[17] Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Asel Koilubayeva, Voice of Freedom, April 10, 2013.

[18] Transparency International ranked Kyrgyzstan 154th out of 176 countries surveyed in 2012 for overall levels of corruption. Transparency International, “Corruption Perception Index 2012,” December 2012, http://www.transparency.org/whatwedo/pub/corruption_perceptions_index_2012 (accessed March 31, 2013). Robert Oostvogels, “Police practices and sex work in Bishkek Kyrgyz Republic: Assessment and review of existing interventions and strategies,” December 2005, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[19] Ministry of Interior of Kyrgyzstan, “The Concept of Law Enforcement Bodies Reform and High Priority Measures for its Implementation for 2013-2014,” http://mvd.kg/index.php?option=com_content&view=article& id=38897%3A-l-2013-2014-r&catid=71%3Anews&Itemid=522&lang=ru (accessed March 31, 2013).

[20] “Statement on the Decision by the Kyrgyz Supreme Court to Uphold the Convictions of Azimjon Askarov and Others,” Embassy of the US in Bishkek, December 22, 2011, http://bishkek.usembassy.gov/pr_122711_usosceaskarov.html (accessed September 10, 2013); US Embassy Bishkek, Press Release: “U.S. Embassy Concerned About Allegations of Torture of Detainees in Kyrgyzstan,” Embassy of the US in Bishkek press release, January 31, 2011, http://bishkek.usembassy.gov/pr_01_13_11.html (accessed December 17, 2013).

[21] OSCE letter to Human Rights Watch, November 25, 2013, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[22] Ibid.

[23] OHCHR – Central Asia Regional Office website, http://www.ohchr.org/en/countries/enacaregion/pages/centralasiasummary.aspx (accessed September 17. 2013)

[24] OHCHR, “OHCHR in the field: Europe and Central Asia,” 2011, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/ohchrreport2011/web_version/ohchr_report2011_web/allegati/24_Europe.pdf (accessed September 16, 2013), p. 336.

[25] “Alternative and Actual concepts of Ministry of Interior Reform,” Reforma.kg, August 11, 2013, http://www.reforma.kg/articles/view/81 (accessed August 13, 2013).

[26] “Proposal to public groups and activists regarding cooperation in the framework of the Kyrgyzstan Security Map, Reforma.kg, July 29, 2013, http://www.reforma.kg/articles/view/77 (accessed August 13, 2013).

[27] Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Timur Shaihutdinov, representative of Citizen Union for Reforms and Results, August 20, 2013.

[28] Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kyrgyzstan, “Instruction for staff of law enforcement bodies on HIV prevention among staff and vulnerable groups of the population, Instruction 417,” 2008, on file with Human Rights Watch, p. 1.

[29] Ibid, p. 4.

[30] Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Rachel Thomas, Sexual Health and Rights Project, Open Society Foundations, August 8, 2013.

[31] Alan Sagimbayev, “Ombudsman concerned with the rights of homosexuals,” Vesti.kg, November, 2, 2011, http://www.vesti.kg/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=15711:ombudsmen-ozabotilsya-pravami-gomoseksualistov&Itemid=80 (accessed July 20, 2013).

[32] Sherzod Babakulov, “Ombudsman Amanbayev promises to protect LGBT rights,” Kloop.kg, http://kloop.kg/blog/2013/10/04/ombudsmen-amanbaev-obeshhaet-zashhishhat-prava-lgbt/ (accessed November 10, 2013).