The passage of a discriminatory anti-gay “propaganda” bill to its first reading following a discussion today in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament didn’t come as a surprise, but it’s still disappointing and discouraging to witness the utter disregard some politicians show for their country’s human rights obligations and the fundamental value of equality.
Since late spring, rights activists and members of the LGBT community in Kyrgyzstan have feared the possibility this bill would pass, given widespread homophobic attitudes in Kyrgyzstan, views also reflected by a majority in parliament. Even then, the homophobic rhetoric and the display of ignorance by members of parliament about LGBT people still shocks.
One member of parliament argued that criminalizing propaganda “will secure traditional family values” and that it is not possible to be both Muslim and gay. Another MP argued that a year in prison for “committing acts directed at creating a positive attitude towards nontraditional sexual relations through the media” isn't enough, and proposed sanctions of up to three years in prison.
Still another commented in the media today that LGBT people shouldn’t be allowed to donate blood, speculating that “they often are ill with hepatitis and other illnesses.”
Kyrgyzstan’s LGBT community is already marginalized, discriminated against, and abused by many, including the police. In a report released earlier this year, Human Rights Watch documented many instances of police violence and harassment against gay and bisexual men including extortion, ill-treatment, and sexual violence such as rape and rape with foreign objects.
Adopting the ill-conceived and abusive propaganda law will further stigmatize this vulnerable group and, given the bill’s vague wording, open the door to a broad interpretation of “positive attitude,” leading to further abuse by police of LGBT people and anyone else who speaks positively about LGBT people and their rights, myself included.
Openly sharing information about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people or creating a “positive attitude” about this community is part of the internationally protected right to free expression. It should never be an offence, far less a crime. LGBT people enjoy the same human rights as everyone else and Kyrgyzstan has international obligations to them and everyone it must uphold.
The bill will go to its first reading soon and ignorance should not rule the day. There is still a chance for members of parliament to do the right thing.
Correction: This Dispatch incorrectly stated that the ‘propaganda’ bill had already passed its first reading in parliament on October 9. The Dispatch was updated on October 14 to reflect that Kyrgyzstan’s parliament had only discussed the bill, but had not voted on it.