The Expanding Insecurity of Kyrgyzstan’s LGBT Community
Bishkek, long viewed as a relatively liberal haven not only in Kyrgyzstan but within the largely conservative Central Asia region, has seen an increase in political and social hostility towards its LGBT community. As in other parts of Eurasia, Kyrgyzstan has witnessed a resurgence in far-right ultra-nationalism and an attendant conflation of LGBT rights with Western encroachment on Kyrgyz culture, leading to increased attacks on the Kyrgyz LGBT community. Similar to other Eurasian nations, legislation has been proposed to limit information access about the LGBT community, and the shuttering of Bishek’s last remaining gay club has left the LGBT Kyrgyzstanis with few opportunities for safe communal socializing.
“‘All of us will be victims at some point’: why Bishkek’s only gay club closed” (The Guardian | October 2017)
“Curtain Falls On Bishkek’s Lone LGBT Club Amid Worsening Atmosphere” (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty | June 2017)
Tajikistan launches register of LGBT citizens
- A state publication indicated 319 gay men and 48 lesbians had been identified following research into the Tajikistani LGBT community as a part of operations called “Morality” and “Purge.”
- One police source indicated that the register could be used to gather medical records under the pretense that the state is looking to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
- Same-sex relations are not illegal in Tajikistan, although activists have in the past pointed to discrimination and persecution in the conservative country.
“Tajikistan authorities draw up list of gay and lesbian citizens” (Agence France-Presse via The Guardian | October 2017)
“Tajikistan: LGBT Registry Sparks Outrage” (EurasiaNet | October 2017)
“There’s a rising global tide of crackdowns on LGBT communities” (The Washington Post | October 2017)
Saving the Kazakh Language, One Film at a Time
Despite its predominantly ethnic Kazakh population, Kazakhstan has struggled to promote widespread use of the Kazakh language within its borders. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstanis have nevertheless demonstrated continued preference for Russian, with 84.4% of the population speaking the language. For film distribution, this has meant that Russian-dubbed foreign films—many coming from Hollywood—have been in considerably higher demand than Kazakh-dubbed ones. The government has sought to promote the integration of the country’s historical language via Kazakh’s status as the official language and laws requiring film distributors to dub or subtitle foreign films in Kazakh. EurasiaNet explores the challenges within the film industry of balancing cultural and political considerations with social demand for what some ethnic Kazakhs worry may become a marginalized language.
“Kazakhstan: Movies Going Kazakh, But Distributors and Audiences Resist” (EurasiaNet)
(Image Credit: CityKey.net, via EurasiaNet)
Kyrgyzstan Parliament blocks bill targeting foreign NGOs for increased government oversight
- The controversial bill, modeled after Russia’s, originally sought to have foreign-funded organizations labeled “foreign agents” and increase bureaucratic oversight of international NGOs, deterring their operation in the country.
- International or internationally funded NGOs in the country support public health and human rights development—particularly for vulnerable minorities—and serve as monitors of government corruption.
- The bill had been revised to excise the “foreign agent” label and decrease financial reporting requirements, but the persistence of other large bureaucratic burdens led to the bill’s defeat as legislators worried over the bill’s impact on Kyrgyzstan’s international reputation.
“Kyrgyzstan: Foreign Agent Bill Nixed, NGOs Rejoice” (EurasiaNet)
“Kyrgyzstan scraps bill to bring NGOs under tighter control” (Reuters)
“NGOs Avert Russian-Inspired Restrictions in Central Asia’s Only Democracy” (Foreign Policy)
(Image Credit: Igor Kovalenko/EPA, via Foreign Policy)
Kyrgyzstan’s Anti-LGBT Vigilantism
Caught in the orbit of Russia’s anti-LGBT political campaigns, Kyrgyzstan has seen increases in the persecution of its LGBT citizens as the former Soviet state’s realignment with Russia has led to the adoption of some of its most socially conservative policies. Much as in Russia, nationalism and anti-LGBT sentiment have gone hand in hand, with LGBT rights construed by reactionary nationalists as Western encroachment on Kyrgyz values and sovereignty. Amidst a floundering economy, anti-NGO and anti-LGBT bills have found significant support in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament, and though they have yet to be signed into law, police and citizens have used them as excuses to target the LGBT community and antagonize the few advocacy organizations that exist. Coda Story highlights Kyrgyzstan’s politicized homophobia and the stories of victims’ suffering under police extortion and indifference, sexual assault, and relentless threats.
“‘We’ll cut off your head’: open season for LGBT attacks in Kyrgyzstan” (Coda Story via The Guardian)
“Kyrgyzstan’s NGO and LGBT Crackdown” (The Diplomat, March 2016)
“LGBT advocates from Kyrgyzstan visit D.C.” (Washington Blade, March 2016)
“Kyrgyz Group Wrecks Day Against Homophobia” (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, May 2015)
“Kyrgyzstan’s Anti-Gay Bill: Just Following in Russia’s Footsteps?” (EurasiaNet, October 2014)
(Image Credit: Andrew North/Coda Story, via The Guardian)
Suspicion of land privatization policies erupts into rare protests across Kazakhstan
- Despite the Kazakhstani government’s low tolerance for dissent, thousands rallied across the cities of Aqtobe, Semei, and Atyrau to protest proposed land privatization policies that will put 1.7 million hectares of public land up for auction beginning on July 1.
- Kazakhstanis have expressed concern that land will be sold to foreigners (particularly the Chinese) or will end up in the hands of the elite, inflected by centuries of redrawn borders that have seen ethnic Kazakhs divided between Kazakhstan, Russia, and China.
- Government officials have stated that the legislation only extends the foreign lease period cap from 10 to 25 years foreigners and have threatened to punish those who say otherwise.
“Kazakhstan’s land reform protests explained” (BBC)
“Protesters In Kazakhstan Rally Against Land-Privatization Plan” (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)
“Land Sales Unearth Kazakhs’ Love For The Motherland” (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)
(Image Credit: Sania Tolken/RFE-RL)
Kazakhstan’s Unfolding Mental Health Crisis
An economic downturn in Kazakhstan has led to deteriorating mental health conditions for a population of men struggling to find work and support their families in a heavily patriarchal society. Mental health professionals have reported significant increases in the number of male clients, though numbers of those afflicted with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety are believed to be significantly underreported given cultural attitudes that deter men from seeking professional help. An IWPR report highlights some of the factors compounding Kazakh men’s social, economic, and psychological alienation and attempts to provide assistance to the community.
“Kazakhstan’s mental health crisis: ‘as men we can’t seek help’” (Institute for War & Peace Reporting, via The Guardian)
(Image Credit: Igor Kovalenko/EPA, via The Guardian)
Turkmenistan passes law requiring HIV test for foreign workers, couples looking to marry, others
- Testing will be mandatory for foreigners seeing work visas, couples seeking a marriage certificate, prisoners, drug users, and blood donors.
- The law implies those found to be infected will be denied government documents for the status (residency, marriage) they are seeking.
- State media indicated that the law was an attempt to promote “healthy families” and includes a provision that guarantees free treatment for AIDS-infected citizens.
“Turkmenistan To Require HIV Test For Those Seeking Marriage License” (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)
“HIV tests now required before marriage in Turkmenistan” (The Philippine Daily Inquirer)
“Turkmenistan requires HIV test for marriage license seekers” (AP)
Discovering Opportunity Beyond Illness in Kazakhstan
With an estimated 200,000 registered in the country as afflicted with chronic psychiatric illness, Kazakhstan has a significant population that has suffered under punitive models of psychiatric care inherited from the Soviet era. Psychiatric professionals and advocates are battling the ward-to-grave pipeline and wasted human potential through new efforts to provide visibility for a community that often languishes behind walls in the Central Asian country. In addition to political and medical reforms, work initiatives have given birth to opportunity through businesses like the Training Café, a restaurant in Almaty that employs people with learning disabilities and other mental illnesses. EurasiaNet profiles ongoing efforts to de-institutionalize and integrate Kazakhstanis with mental illness into productive society.
“Kazakhstan: Cafe Dispels Disability Stereotypes” (EurasiaNet)
“Kazakhstan to eliminate discrimation against disabled persons” (Tengrinews, March 2015)
“Business Centre for Disabled Opens in East Kazakhstan” (The Astana Times, June 2015)
(Image Credit: Joanna Lillis/EurasiaNet)
Activists claim abuse by Uzbek government while documenting forced labor in cotton harvesting
- Human rights activists affiliated with the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan claimed they were detained and beaten by police after attempting to document forced labor conditions during the country’s cotton harvest.
- Two women arrested in late September reported being strip-searched and having a gynecological examination conducted in front of male officers.
- Uzbekistan, the fifth-largest cotton producer in the world, has long been under fire for the mass mobilization of its citizens into unpaid labor in the fields to ensure the millions of tons of the country’s major cash crop can be harvested and exported.
“Uzbekistan accused of brutal crackdown on activists investigating forced labour” (The Guardian)
“Arrested, threatened, beaten: The Uzbekistan activist who won’t give up” (BBC)
“Uzbekistan: Cotton Harvest Monitors Face Intimidation” (EurasiaNet)
(Image Credit: Mikhail Metzel/AP, via The Guardian)
The Uphill Battle for Accessibility
Estimated to be 160,000 in strength, Kyrgyzstan’s disability community has long faced domestic confinement, public misinformation and shaming, and structural exclusion due to lack of governmental and business commitment to accessible spaces and protocols. Recently, around 300 took to the streets of Bishkek, the capital, for an annual march in support of increased accessibility in the country. EurasiaNet takes a look at the obstacles and initial victories that are driving the community to push forward.
“Kyrgyzstan: Disabled Battle for Acceptance and Access” (EurasiaNet)
(Image Credit: EurasiaNet)
Young Tajik girls are taking transportation into their own hands by biking to school, a significant endeavor that can involve up to a 10-kilometer round trip. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty learns why one girl decided to take up the trip.
Watch the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty video on YouTube.
Tajiks with aspirations of working in Russia face constricted opportunities as Russian language education dwindles
- The Tajikistani government has asked for more Russian-language teachers from Russia to reinforce Tajikistan’s crumbling language education.
- Russia’s new language requirements stymie economic opportunity in a country that sees more than 80% of its able-bodied population working abroad, with 1 million documented in Russia (and an unknown number of undocumented Tajik workers).
- Poor digital infrastructure has inhibited distance-learning opportunities and Russian teachers have been reluctant to travel to the former Soviet nation, leading Tajiks to lose out to better-educated Kyrgyz workers with fewer political barriers.
“If we are healthy in future, God willing, I want to send him to Russia to study, because there is no hope for Tajik education. … At least, he will be able to work in Russia without too much trouble. I don’t think that by the time my son grows up, jobs will have been created in Tajikistan.”
Read the full story at EurasiaNet.
(Image Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet)
Three-month suspension of independent magazine in Kazakhstan raises press freedom alarms
- Adam (Person) magazine, known for its critique of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration, was handed a three-month suspension by the government for publishing only in Russian when it claimed to publish in both the Russian and Kazakh languages.
- Press freedom watchdogs claim such bureaucratic tactics are frequently used to shutter independent journalism, with Kazakhstan sitting at 160th among the 177 countries ranked by Reporters Without Borders.
- The suspension follows a libel conviction likely to bankrupt an independent journalist for reporting on alleged corruption in the city of Almaty’s construction industry.
“In Kazakhstan the closure of any media outlet is a matter decided by political bodies. … Of course this is connected to politics.”
Read the full story at EurasiaNet.
ClimateWatch periodically analyzes the security climates of the world’s regions, focusing on conditions and developments affecting the most vulnerable identity communities while highlighting meaningful political and social steps towards security and integration. This week’s Eurasian report summarizes developments in identity security from late July through mid-August.
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