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January 12, 2016

Eye on LGBT Human Rights in Tajikistan

At the end of 2015 I had a chance to meet with several LGBT activists from Tajikistan. Most Americans know little about this Central Asian nation, which is situated between China and Afghanistan and strongly influenced by Russia. Tajikistan’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community faces pervasive homophobia in their everyday lives.

The activists made clear that they needed to remain anonymous in this blog post and they described the difficulties of pursuing public advocacy while facing personal risk of exposure.

Same-sex sexual activity has been legal in Tajikistan since 1998, yet in practice it might as well still be 1997. Public beatings and discrimination as well as detention, harassment, and extortion by police are commonplace. Police routinely arrest men under suspicion of “homosexual acts” and charge them with “moral crimes.” In June of last year police arrested more than 500 individuals as part of a crackdown on “immoral behavior.” Some were suspected sex workers, but many were detained solely under suspicion of being LGBT persons. 

Civil society in Tajikistan is largely closed, nongovernmental groups are few, and formally organized LGBT associations are subject to rigorous reporting guidelines that hamper their activities. Groups must operate inconspicuously, toeing the line between doing good work and evading scrutiny from authorities. 

Many LGBT Tajikistanis identify a religious and cultural bias as the source of continuing persecution, but also note that this bias is not solely homegrown. A Russian breed of homophobia has taken root. Other countries in the region are following Russia’s lead by introducing bills curtailing the freedoms of speech and assembly of LGBT people. Members of the LGBT community fear that this hateful influence may soon manifest in legislation in Tajikistan with its own law banning so-called propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientation.

With few allies at home, the Tajik LGBT community needs support from abroad. The U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe is an ally, offering small grants, access to exchange programs, and hosting meetings with prominent members of the State Department. But LGBT leaders in Tajikistan are ready to do more. They want to work with the United States to drive positive change in their country and defeat any homophobic legislation that would further marginalize their community. 

For more information on Human Rights First's approach to combatting anti-LGBT propaganda laws in the region, read our blueprint, How to Stop Russia from Exporting Homophobia.