Rulers take a page out of Russia’s intolerant playbook
Central Asia’s republics are no bastions of tolerance. But now even the most liberal of the region’s countries is moving to restrict gay life. Rulers in these ex-Soviet states seem to be inspired by Russia’s growing anti-Westernism.
Kyrgyzstan is considered the region’s most open and democratic country, despite grinding poverty and recent experience of revolutions and pogroms. Yet a bill introduced into the legislature on March 26th proposes jailing anyone who spreads information about gay rights. The bill is a stricter version of Russia’s recent ban on gay “propaganda”. It must now pass several readings before going to the pro-Russian president. There have been calls for similar legislation in next-door Kazakhstan, where a deputy from the ruling Nur Otan party said last year that gays should be considered “criminals against humanity”.
Civil-society activists in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, fear that Russia, still the dominant economic force in the region, is pushing an anti-liberal ideology on its neighbours. But Russia may have simply provided a legislative model to reinforce existing conservative attitudes. Either way, with Russian media dominating Central Asians’ television screens, gay, bisexual and transgender rights have become synonymous with a degenerate West. At a recent anti-gay rally outside the American embassy in Bishkek, angry young men burned a picture of a young blogger, equating his support for the pro-European movement in Ukraine with gay rights.
Exaggerating malign Western forces helps the Kremlin concoct enemies and distract from domestic problems. In Kyrgyzstan lawmakers are doing the same. While ignoring failing schools, corruption and poverty, some have pushed for anti-NGO legislation almost identical to a Russian law that labels not-for-profit organisations underwritten by Western money as “foreign agents”.
Homophobia runs deep across Muslim Central Asia. In Turkmenistan gay sex earns up to five years in a labour camp (going up to 20 years for repeat offenders). In Uzbekistan the sentence is three years in jails rife with tuberculosis. In all five Central Asian republics, anti-gay attacks go unpunished.
Challenges to homophobia are seen as Western meddling. In January Human Rights Watch, an NGO, detailed how Kyrgyzstani police use violence and blackmail to extort money from gay men. In response, the country’s chief Muslim cleric issued a fatwa condemning same-sex relations as well as groups, such as NGOs, that “disseminate social discord”.
Source – The Economist