The brutal killing of a 25-year-old gay man in Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent, last week has raised concerns within the local lesbian and gay community, which has been largely ostracized in the predominantly Muslim Central Asian country.
The body of Shokir Shavkatov was found in an apartment in Tashkent on September 12, just days after he "came out" as gay in an Instagram post.
Police say he suffered "several" knife wounds on his "neck and arms," and an officer said his throat had been cut so deeply he was nearly decapitated.
A 28-year-old suspect is in custody and is being charged with premeditated murder.
While police say a probe is under way to determine a possible motive for the killing, local activists say the attack was an act of hatred toward sexual minorities. "This barbaric killing shows obvious signs of homophobia," one local activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service.
"We are extremely concerned…and demand the government protect sexual minorities," said the activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing safety concerns.
There are conflicting accounts regarding the circumstances of Shavkatov's killing. One of his friends claimed that shortly before the attack, Shavkatov was seen in a Tashkent nightclub popular with members of the gay community.
The friend, who gave only a first name, Aziz, told RFE/RL that two unknown men in their 40s carried Shavkatov away after accosting him.
It remains unclear whether Shavkatov was forcibly taken away or went on his own accord. Hours later, his body was found in an apartment in Tashkent's Yunusobod district.
"The two men who took away Shokir Shavkatov from the nightclub introduced themselves as morals police," said the Tashkent-based activist, confirming Aziz's version of events.
The activist said the police had raided the same nightclub on September 10 -- a day before the attack -- and took away some 10 homosexuals.
The authorities denied the claim and urged the media not to spread baseless rumors that could mislead people and discredit the police.
Police say Shavkatov was killed by a man whom he met on the main Russian social-media site, VKontakte. They identified the attacker as Odiljon, a "temporarily unemployed" resident of Tashkent's Olmazor district.
Police said in a statement that the two men met in the victim's apartment and apparently had an argument. It led to Odiljon stabbing Shavkatov "several times" in his neck and arms, the statement added.
Police said the killing was reported by a neighbor, who noticed blood stains under the apartment door and called emergency services.
The suspect was arrested with the help of information obtained from a taxi driver, the statement said.
The statement didn't describe the severity of the wounds, but an officer told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that his head had been nearly cut off.
Crime To Be Gay
In Uzbekistan, homosexuality is a criminal offense with a maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment.
In August, a leading member of the country's various LGBT communities urged President Shavkat Mirziyoev to decriminalize homosexuality.
In a video appeal, Shohrukh Salimov asked the president to abandon the notorious Article 120 of the Criminal Code, which is called Voluntary Sexual Intercourse Between Two Male Individuals.
There was no response from the president, who has never publicly spoken about homosexuality.
Salimov, who was based in Turkey at the time, said that LGBT communities "face severe persecution" and asked Mirziyoev to protect them.
The video appeal came after police reportedly arrested two gay men under the sodomy law in Tashkent's Chilonzor district in July.
Shortly after the appeal was posted on the Internet, Uzbek police reportedly went to Salimov's family home in Tashkent and told his parents that he was wanted by the authorities.
One neighbor told RFE/RL that Salimov's parents had already been suffering "serious pressure by neighbors" because of their son's sexual orientation. "Police visits to their home became another enormous psychological pressure for the family," the neighbor said.
Activists claim that police often blackmail gays to extort money.
Members of the LGBT community also often face verbal and physical abuse. In 2017, five people were arrested in the eastern Ferghana Province for brutally threatening and then beating a gay man.
Police identified the attackers after they posted a video of their assault on social media.
At a meeting in Geneva in 2013, the UN Human Rights Committee called on the Uzbek government to abandon the Soviet-era sodomy law.
However, a member of the Uzbek government delegation, Abdukarim Shodiev, rejected the call, saying the law reflected Uzbekistan's culture and traditions.