Both male and female same-sex sexual activities are legal in Tajikistan since 1998. The age of consent is 17. But police are are reticent to address hate crimes, including the murder of a gay man in Dushanbe in 2011. Police have also been known to blackmail closeted individuals by threatening to expose them.
Enclose here are three reports that offer analysis and overview of the challenges faced by LGBT activists and citizens in their efforts to bring about an acceptable “GayLife in Tajikstan”.
Tajikistan: LGBT Community Stuck in the Shadows;
No help – and sometimes worse – for the LGBT community in Tajikistan
January 23, 2012
Like many 28-year-olds in Tajikistan, Parviz is married. He and his wife have three children that they adore. But Parviz has a secret he can’t even share with his closest loved ones.
“I got married at age 20 because my family put a lot of pressure on me,” he told EurasiaNet.org, sitting far from prying ears in a quiet corner of Dushanbe’s Botanical Garden. “Soon after, I went to Russia to work at a market in Yekaterinburg. It was there that I first realized that I liked men and I began to go to gay bars and parks where men met.” Tajikistan’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT) remains one of the most closed and secretive parts of Tajik society.
“Homosexuality is contrary to nature,” said an official from the Ministry of Health, who spoke to EurasiaNet.org on condition of anonymity because she is not authorized to speak to the press.
“Although it [homosexuality] has been removed from the [government’s] list of treatable illnesses, many doctors still see it as a disease which can be treated with medicine. I have heard reports of the use of aversion therapy, psychiatric treatment and the use of testosterone-boosting drugs.”
Parviz doesn’t believe anything is wrong with him, but he knows to keep his secret from his relatives and friends. “I cannot tell my family. I’m scared they would not accept me for being who I am and I would bring shame on them,” he said.
Whereas in the Soviet Union homosexuality was punishable by up to five years in prison, in Tajikistan it was de-criminalized in 1998. Though Tajikistan’s criminal code does not prohibit homosexuality and homosexual relationships, LGBT individuals are still singled out for persecution by some officials. A 2011 report on sexual rights in Tajikistan co-written by a coalition of international LGBT rights groups, highlighted widespread police harassment. The paper lists regular cases of blackmail, arbitrary arrest and physical violence against LGBT individuals, mostly gay men.
When 23-year-old office worker Said told his best friend that he was gay, he did not realize the mistake he was making. “I trusted him, but he was disgusted and told me I was going to hell,” Said told EurasiaNet.org. Soon after, the police knocked on his family’s door. His father answered and the police asked to speak with Said. “I stepped out in the hallway and they told me that if I did not pay them 1,000 somoni [$210] they would tell my parents about my orientation. What could I do? I paid them the money and they left me alone. I was scared they would come back, so I moved.”
Said considers himself relatively lucky. In 2011, after being subjected to continuous blackmail, a 20-year-old gay flight attendant, Ravshan Uzakov hanged himself, the BBC’s Russian language service reported. And last year in Dushanbe, a gay student was stabbed seven times and later died of his injuries. Police swiftly closed the case and labeled the attack a robbery.
For Parviz, there is only one solution – the relative safety of Russia, where hate crimes against homosexuals occur nevertheless. He is one of hundreds of thousands of Tajik men who travel to Russia annually to find work. “There I have more freedom to pursue the kind of relations I want,” he said.
Tajikistan Rife with Homophobia
A report last week from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) found that homophobia is endemic in the central Asian former Soviet country of Tajikistan.
Gay rights groups and individuals told the IWPR about threats of public beatings and police harassment in Tajikistan. In relatively more liberal neighboring Kyrgyzstan there are about a dozen gay rights organizations in the capital Bishkek, but Tajikistan only has one. The group, Equal Opportunities recently held a public event and invited several NGOs and general human rights groups, but only two people turned up.
Human Rights Watch World Report 2012’s chapter on Tajikistan does not mention LGBT rights at all, further evidence that human rights groups are overlooking gay rights in the region. The report does say that in general ‘the human rights situation in Tajikistan remains poor’.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Tajikistan in 1998, but the director of Equal Opportunities, Kiromidin Gulov, told the BBC that the way the majority of the public treat LGBT people has not changed. ‘In Tajikistan, despite the abolition of the article [against homosexuality] in the criminal code, homophobia remains a very big problem. Obvious cases of discrimination are beating, rape, robbery. Gays and lesbians do not go to the police for fear of publicity and blackmail,’ he said in a BBC interview in April last year.
A joint report from Equal Opportunities and the Kyrgyzstan-based gay rights group Labrys said: ‘sexual and physical violence against gay and bisexual men perpetrated by the police… [in the respective countries] is very common,” and that many gay people flee for Russia or Kazakstan.
A 42-year-old woman in the capital Dushanbe told IWPR that she disliked gays. ‘If my child turned out like that, I would reject him,’ she said.
In Tajikstan Gay rights face uphill struggle
21 July 2004
Efforts to advocate the rights of the gay community in Tajikistan, including HIV/AIDS awareness, face an uphill battle given traditional Islamic values and a general intolerance towards homosexuality.
“Tajikistan is a conservative Muslim country. Such subjects are not easily spoken about,” Kiromiddin Gulov, coordinator for the local NGO, Legal Support for Youth, one of the few groups working to address the issue, told IRIN in the capital, Dushanbe. “Homosexuals have no status in this country.”
Under a project entitled “Legal Support for Sexual Minorities”, the Dushanbe-based group is trying to revise current legislation in the country, as well as provide legal support to individuals as and when necessary. HIV/AIDS and its prevention is one component of the project; a daunting task in this mountainous Central Asian state of 7 million where such topics remain largely taboo.
Working with a small staff of seven, the NGO, with funding from the New York-based Tides Foundation, is one of the first MSM (Men who have Sex with Men) advocacy efforts in the former Soviet republic.
In early 2003, a small survey measuring public opinion was initiated by the NGO, revealing a particularly negative attitude towards gay people, with some people saying they should be killed.
Of the MSM members surveyed, the vast majority maintained the need to keep their identities and status in the country hidden. “They are very, very closed,” Gulov said, describing them as “lonely” people.
“Nobody in Tajikistan wants to admit that this sort of sexual orientation exists,” Farkhod Fazylov, assistant for the MSM project, concurred, telling IRIN that police were known to harass some individuals once their sexual preference was revealed.
According to the NGO worker, some gay Tajiks were forced into compromising positions by the police, who blackmailed them into disclosing the identity of other members of the MSM community. “Many people are afraid of having their identities revealed to their families,” Fazylov said.
It is just such a reality that makes increasing awareness of the threat of HIV/AIDS amongst this group – and others – all the more difficult.
While there have been no reported cases of HIV amongst the group, the risk is still there. “Some male prostitutes here are having between 10 and 15 partners a day,” Gulov said, taking as little as US $1 to 2 per sexual encounter. “The MSM community is one of the most marginalised risk groups for HIV/AIDS in Tajikistan.”
Azamjon Mirzoev, director of Tajikistan’s Republican AIDS centre in Dushanbe agreed. “The issue of MSM, with regard to HIV infection, is a taboo subject due to the conservative nature of society,” he told IRIN. “This is a closed topic. We are trying to provide some informal training to this group, but we have had staff members beaten up over the issue.”
Assistance to the MSM group in Tajikistan remained very limited due largely to the traditional, sensitive and fragile nature of the subject, he explained, adding: “We are working to address this issue.”
Since 1991, some 228 HIV/AIDS cases have officially been registered in the country – the vast majority of them being men – with the health official estimating the real number to be between 3,000 and 5,000.
“In the first four months of 2004, 109 cases were recorded,” he said, noting that the main mode of transmission of the disease – 65.8 percent – remained intravenous drug use. He added that in 25.4 percent of cases the cause was not identified.