Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted Wednesday 90 to 2 in favor of a proposed bill that would punish “propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation” with jail terms. The bill has now passed two of three mandatory readings before it can be sent to President Almazbek Atambayev for signature into law. The third reading is expected in the fall before parliamentary elections scheduled for October.
Along with the ‘foreign agents’ law that passed its first reading earlier this month, the so-called ‘anti-gay propaganda’ law is seen by human rights organizations as a serious step backwards for a country long praised as a beacon of civil society in the region.
The Kyrgyz law was first proposed in March 2014, and resembles a Russian law, passed in 2013 that bans the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors” and imposes heavy fines on individuals who do. The Kyrgyz version, the Human Rights Campaign warns, “mandates even harsher punishments, including jail time, for expressing sentiments that could ‘create a positive attitude to unconventional sexual orientation.’” In addition, social pressure on members of the LGBT community have been on the rise–in May anti-gay nationalists crashed a gathering held to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, while a report from Human Rights Watch last year chronicled the torture of gay men by police in Kyrgyzstan.
In October, the proposed law passed its first reading 79 to 7. While opposition in parliament has shrunk, there remains some opposition to it in the country. In March, RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service reported that the Minister of Justice, Jyldyz Mambetalieva, said both the ‘foreign agents’ law and the ‘anti-gay propaganda’ law violated human rights.
Kyrgyzstan, with the most vibrant civil society in the region, has local LGBT advocacy groups that are pushing back against the law. Incidentally, these are the same organizations targeted by the ‘foreign agents’ law which would increase reporting burdens on NGOs & civil society organizations that have foreign sources of funding.
In February when the second reading was originally scheduled, Labrys, a Bishkek-based group, seemed, in part, resigned to the law passing and focused on pressing for a veto by the president:
Although the chances that the Parliament will strike down the draft law in its second and third hearings are very slim, there is hope that the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, who is the guarantor of the Kyrgyz Constitution, will use his power of veto to stop the draft law.
24.kg reported that one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Kurmanbek Dyikanbaev, said that “we defend traditional values of the family. This unit of society is the guarantee of protection of our laws and international conventions. We must honor our customs and traditions, which are alien to non-traditional relationships.”
In late May, Kazakhstan’s Constitutional Court quietly rejected a bill that would have banned “propaganda of homosexuality among minors” on grounds that it included vague language. Most observers tied this move to Kazakhstan’s bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics. The International Olympic Committee adopted a new agenda early this year which, among other things, reworded one of the “Fundamental Principles of Olympism” to include sexual orientation in its non-discrimination clause.
According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association same-sex relations have been legal in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan since 1998–though none allow same-sex unions, marriages, or adoptions. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan criminalize sexual relations between men, but do not mention women, and allow prison sentences up to two, and three, years respectively for “homosexual acts.”