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'Very Scary': Tajikistan's Registry Frightens Gays, Alarms Rights Activists

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Tajikistan in 1998, but the newly announced registry shows that authorities act as if it is still a crime. (illustrative photo)
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Tajikistan in 1998, but the newly announced registry shows that authorities act as if it is still a crime. (illustrative photo)

Firuz, a 30-year-old gay man in Dushanbe, was not surprised by the announcement from the Tajik Prosecutor-General’s Office that it had compiled a list of what it says are 370 gay men and women in the poor Central Asian nation.

Firuz thinks he was added to the registry in 2016 when he was detained during a police raid on a nightclub in the Tajik capital.

He says he was interrogated at a police station, asked about his sexual preferences and the names of his sexual partners. Police also forced him to take a blood test to determine whether he was infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, he says.

Asking that his real name not be used because he fears castigation by relatives and discrimination from his employer, Firuz says the Prosecutor-General Office’s list is flawed, containing the names of nongays who have been wrongly labeled as homosexuals.

“Those who are implementing this order to build a list of gays in Tajikistan just want to satisfy the government and bosses who have ordered them to create this list,” Firuz says. “I know that there are nongays on this list.”

In fact, homosexuality was decriminalized in Tajikistan in 1998 when officials rescinded a Soviet-era law. But the newly announced registry shows that authorities act as if it is still a crime, employing a tactic of posing as the protector of the country's cultural, religious, and moral values, Firuz says.

“The government’s mindset is above the law in this situation,” he says. “Even though homosexuality is not a crime, there are raids in the evening at nightclubs and restaurants and at disco clubs.

“They are trying to catch homosexuals and force them to take medical examinations in which they must give blood for HIV tests,” Firuz says.

“We are in this situation because the government of Tajikistan consists of radical secularists who have their own culture,” he says. “They answer only to themselves.”

It’s unclear exactly when authorities first began compiling lists of names; news of the registry’s existence first came to light this month. Contacted by RFE/RL, the Tajik Interior Ministry refused to comment on the list.

The Prosecutor-General’s Office, meanwhile, defended the registry, saying that individuals were listed “due to their vulnerability in society and for their safety and to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.”

Firuz says he also is concerned that he may become a target for harassment by authorities and from the public because he is listed on the registry.

Indeed, rights activists say Tajikistan's gay community is especially vulnerable to extortion because of fears that their sexual orientation could be publicly revealed with negative consequences in a country of conservative, Muslim values, where homosexuality is frowned upon.

Boris Dittrich, advocacy director for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch, told RFE/RL that the registry is part of “a trend going on in which authorities in former Soviet republics are targeting gays.”

“Homophobic state policies are spreading” in places like Russia’s Chechnya region, in Azerbaijan, and now in Tajikistan, Dittrich told RFE/RL.

“It’s a very scary situation when a government starts to register gays -- putting them on a list and then, usually, forcing them to undergo some kind of medical testing,” Dittrich said.

“Usually, people are forced to undergo testing for sexually transmitted diseases," he said. “This is a violation of a person’s right to privacy.”

Human Rights Watch also documented cases in several African countries and Central Asia where authorities during the past seven years have forced suspected homosexual men to undergo anal examinations that seek evidence of homosexual conduct.

Dittrich says Human Rights Watch has not been able to determine whether Tajik authorities are forcing suspected gay men to undergo similar anal examinations, a practice he says is considered to be a form of torture by the United Nations.

But he notes that Human Rights Watch has documented the practice in another former Soviet republic in Central Asia: Turkmenistan.

“What we know about Tajikistan is that it is a homophobic country that is very conservative and not very open about sexuality,” Dittrich said. “It is a very difficult country for gay men, in particular, to live in.

“It is a predominantly Muslim country where clerics sometimes speak at the mosque in an attempt to turn worshippers against gays,” he said.

Human Rights Watch has documented many cases of police violence against gays in the country.

In 2014, the U.S.-based rights organization said, Tajikistan's State Committee for Religious Affairs instructed imams at mosques across the country to preach against so-called "nontraditional sexual relations."

Amnesty International in 2014 documented what it said was a “new campaign of harassment and violence against gay people who’ve been accused of ‘moral crimes.’”

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