Plans by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists to celebrate a day against homophobia in Kyrgyzstan were spoiled when their party at a trendy Bishkek restaurant was ruined by nationalist, wannabe gay-wedding crashers.
The private May 17 gathering -- timed for International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia -- was attended by members and supporters of Bishkek's LGBT community.
But the group of angry men, who claim to uphold traditional Kyrgyz values, were there to stop what they believe was a gay wedding ceremony taking place in the Astoria Garden's fenced-in courtyard.
"We will not allow a gay wedding in Kyrgyzstan," said Marat Oskonov, who was among the activists led by members of the nationalist vigilante group Kyrk Choro (40 Knights.)
Police officers were called to the site and prevented the groups from fighting, but the party was ruined and attendees were left fearing reprisals.
"We can't go outside now because there are people who are against us," said David, a guest who didn't want to give his full name. Partygoers called the incident a violation of their human rights.
For what it was worth, they also denied that any sort of wedding was taking place. "There wasn't any wedding here, we were only marking antihomophobia day," David said. "We don't have the right to register a marriage. That takes places at registry offices."
Nevertheless, the nationalists are sticking to their story, saying that Mendelssohn's Wedding March was playing when they arrived and insisting that a video of the ceremony was posted on the Internet.
"We saw a wedding party was going on there, we have proof," said Rysbek Karimov, a Kyrk Choro member. "We saw two men getting married here. This is not the Kyrgyz mentality. Kyrgyz men marry women. We want it to stay this way."
Gay marriage is not technically illegal in Kyrgyzstan, but the country has a poor reputation when it comes to LGBT rights.
Right groups say homophobia is widespread in Kyrgyzstan, where a leader of the Kyrgyz Muslims' Spiritual Directorate issued a fatwa in 2014 against same-sex relations.
A Human Rights Watch report said that Kyrgyzstan police have extorted, threatened, arbitrarily detained, beaten, and sexually abused gay and bisexual men.
The country has also come under criticism for a pending bill that would criminalize "gay propaganda." The bill was introduced to parliament in October 2014 and must pass a further reading before going to the president for final approval.
The bill calls for "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to be punishable by up to one year in jail. It says journalists found guilty of "propagating" homosexual relations will be held accountable.
Kyrk Choro and other antigay and nationalist groups accuse unidentified "foreigners" of promoting same-sex relations and corrupting moral and traditional values in Kyrgyzstan.
In late December and early January Kyrk Choro targeted two karaoke bars in Bishkek that it claimed were frequented by Chinese businessmen and local prostitutes.
Customers at the bars were rounded up and shown before videocameras.
In other actions, Kyrk Choro has demanded that ethnic Uyghur vendors at a popular Bishkek bazaar be replaced by local ethnic Kyrgyz.
Kyrk Choro, which claims to have 5,000 members across the country, came into existence in 2010.
The group's name, originally Kyrgyz Choroloru (Kyrgyz Knights), refers to the 40 fighters in the traditional Epic of Manas who fought alongside the Kyrgyz hero in defense of the Kyrgyz nation.