Human rights groups have renewed calls for Uzbekistan to decriminalize homosexuality, saying it is imperative for the Central Asian country to make progress toward honoring its international human rights commitments.
Uzbekistan, a Muslim-majority nation of some 34 million people, is the only former Soviet country that hasn’t removed a Soviet-era law criminalizing homosexuality.
Lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBT) in Uzbekistan are at constant risk of serious human rights violations without any possible recourse to justice, says a new report released by the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), the Eurasian Coalition on Health, Rights, Gender, and Sexual Diversity (ECOM), and the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR).
The report, Like Living On A Different Planet: Gays, Bisexual Men, And Trans People Vulnerable To Abuse, Imprisonment, And Discrimination In Uzbekistan, comes as Uzbekistan’s new draft Criminal Code is being considered.
The reports says that in 2021 at least 36 LGBT people were convicted under Article 120 of the Uzbek Criminal Code, which criminalizes homosexuality. Twenty-five of those convicted were sentenced to prison terms.
And many more Uzbeks live under the looming threat of Article 120 in their daily lives, the rights groups said.
Describing the situation of LGBT people in Uzbekistan, one gay man said: “It’s as if we lived on a different planet, where it is normal to hate, imprison, discriminate, and kill people simply for who they are.”
The report didn’t disclose the man’s name to protect his safety.
Some police officers exploit the criminalization of homosexuality and the societal shame associated with it in a conservative society to extort money from gay and bisexual men, the report said, citing accounts by many who had been victimized.
The victims claim that officers threatened them with imprisonment and demanded bribes in exchange for not opening a criminal case against them or for not informing their relatives, neighbors, or employers of their sexual orientation.
The victims also said police use torture and ill-treatment against homosexuals to punish and humiliate them.
“They suspended me from the ceiling using handcuffs, beat me severely, and tried to rape me with a truncheon,” a young bisexual man said, recalling how police treated him in detention.
The man said police officers laid him on the floor and an officer jumped up and down on his stomach.
“I have never been beaten and intimidated like that in my entire life. I wanted to die to free myself from this torture,” he said.
According to the report, the police told him to pay $2,000 or face imprisonment under Article 120. The man paid the bribe and was released.
In a similar case, a young man and two of his friends were detained in a cafe on suspicion of being gay. The report uses the pseudonym Kurbon to protect the man’s identity.
Kurbon told the rights groups that the officers took them to the police station where the men were beaten, verbally abused, and threatened with a criminal case.
Kurbon said he was able to delete contacts and other incriminating evidence before police confiscated his phone.
Kurbon agreed to pay a $500 bribe after the officers threatened that they would tell his wife about his sexual orientation. Kurbon borrowed the money and paid the bribe after he was released. The fate of the other two men is unknown.
“You don’t know where to complain, where to turn. I’m still angry when I think of what they did to us. I try not to dwell on it, but I will never forget that traumatic experience,” Kurbon said.
No Confidentiality At HIV Centers
The report said that police in Uzbekistan often have access to the confidential information of LGBT people who are registered at HIV treatment centers and they use this information to blackmail, threaten, or persecute them.
“We have documented cases where HIV center staff have informed the police of a man’s sexual orientation, putting him at risk of persecution. This is a violation of the right to privacy and poses a major obstacle to accessing much needed health care,” said Yuri Yourski of ECOM.
Akmal, a 24-year-old gay man, tested positive for HIV at a medical facility in eastern Uzbekistan in early 2022.
Akmal said he fell into a depression and turned down all invitations from the local HIV center for treatment. Several months later, Akmal got a phone call from police who urged him to go to the center.
When Akmal went to the clinic, the staff questioned him about his sexual orientation, his sex life, and took his mobile phone to take down information about his contacts.
In another case, a gay man identified as Rasul was questioned by a doctor about his sexual orientation when he tested positive for HIV. Fearing for his safety, Rasul lied that he was heterosexual.
But the medic pressed further, questioning why he was unmarried, asserting that in Uzbekistan HIV is only spread by homosexuals of a certain age, and claiming on that basis that Rasul must be a homosexual.
This dispute culminated in the doctor threatening to disclose Rasul’s diagnosis to his family and put him on record as a homosexual, the report said.
The rights groups have also documented cases that some “aggressive homophobes” in Uzbekistan frequently seek out LGBT people, threaten them with violence, and disseminate their names, contact details and photos online with calls to kill them.
The “homophobes” also target people who call for tolerance toward the LGBT community on social media.
The report accused Uzbek authorities of severely curtailing the right to freedom of expression when it comes to expressions of support for LGBT people and the dissemination of information about human rights violations affecting them.
Blogger Miraziz Bazarov was sentenced to three year’s restricted freedom in January 2022 for libel after he publicly criticized the country’s education system and called for same-sex relations to be decriminalized.
Bazarov has openly said he is not an LGBT activist but rather believes being gay is a personal issue and hence there should be no laws against it.
Bazarov was beaten by unknown men in March 2021, hours after a public event he organized was disrupted by dozens of -- what eyewitnesses described as -- aggressive men in Tashkent.
Bazarov had told RFE/RL that he had received many online threats before the attack. The blogger said he told police about the attack but did not take any action.
The report said Uzbek officials have sought to justify the criminalization of same-sex relations with references to religion, culture, tradition, and public opinion. They claimed that decriminalization would have negative implications for society and for Uzbekistan’s reputation in the Muslim world.
But they have failed to address the fact that depriving people of their liberty because of their sexual orientation contradicts Uzbekistan’s obligations under international human rights law, the report said.