Kyrgyzstan's anti-LGBT "propaganda" bill violates free speech
Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary Committee on Law, Order and Fighting Crime approved a blatantly discriminatory anti-gay “propaganda” bill on February 17, 2015, Human Rights Watch said today. Kyrgyzstan's parliament should resolutely reject the bill when it goes to a vote.
In a letter to the sponsors of the bill on March 2, Human Rights Watch urged Kyrgyzstan's parliament, the Jogorku Kenesh, to stay true to the principle of non-discrimination that is enshrined in the country's constitution, as well as to its international human rights commitments.
“Kyrgyzstan's legislators have a responsibility to put non-discrimination, their constitution, and international law before their personal understandings of traditional values,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This bill would not only violate free speech, it would encourage discrimination and violence against Kyrgyzstan citizens.”
The bill, which passed its first reading on October 15, 2014, by an overwhelming majority, would provide criminal and administrative sanctions for “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.” Its aim is to ban the dissemination of any information promoting “non-traditional sexual relations” or “homosexual lifestyles” in a “positive” way. It would apply to the press, television, radio, and the Internet, as well as to public assemblies – a clear violation of freedom of expression.
The bill next goes to the full parliament for a second reading and, if adopted, must pass one more reading before it is sent to the president for signature.
The bill came under significant criticism after its first reading, including by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's (OSCE) freedom of media representative, the United States embassy in Bishkek, and the European Parliament. A working group, which included the bill's sponsors, was also convened to review the law. However, no significant amendments had been introduced to the bill that the parliamentary committee approved for a second reading.
Given its vague wording, the bill could be used against a wide range of individuals and groups whose work involves or is directed at sexual health or at sexual and gender minorities in Kyrgyzstan. The bill carries a maximum sentence of up to one year in prison. Those at risk of being targeted include groups working on HIV prevention; right to health and delivery of healthcare services; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues and human rights; and journalists.
LGBT people already face discrimination and violence in Kyrgyzstan, including from the police. Public commentary on the draft bill has included hateful, discriminatory, and degrading rhetoric.
Proponents of the bill have claimed that they are not seeking to restrict the rights of LGBT people, but just to limit dissemination of information about “nontraditional sexual relations.” The sponsors contended that adopting anti-propaganda legislation will “secure traditional family values.” Yet during discussions on February 17, 2015, one member of parliament said that gay men are “sick, mentally ill” people and that it is “propaganda” for them to sit in public places.
“Rhetoric about 'traditional values' around this ill-conceived bill creates a false dichotomy and pits 'tradition' against fundamental human rights,” Williamson said. “Human rights are universal and belong to all Kyrgyzstan's citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation.”
In April 2014, Kyrgyzstan was granted “partnership for democracy” status by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). When Kyrgyzstan's speaker of parliament requested partnership status in 2011, he said Kyrgyzstan “shares the Council of Europe's values, which are founded on pluralism and gender equality, together with parity-based democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Kyrgyzstan's Constitution, in article 16, affirms that the “Kyrgyz Republic shall respect and ensure human rights and freedoms to all persons on its territory and under its jurisdiction.” It also states that “laws that deny or derogate human and civil rights and freedoms shall not be adopted in the Kyrgyz Republic.” Furthermore, freedoms of speech, information (to seek and disseminate), and assembly are protected in Kyrgyzstan's constitution under articles 31, 33, and 34, respectively.
Kyrgyzstan is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which enshrines the principle of non-discrimination and guarantees the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, as well as the right to respect for the personal, private, and family lives of individuals and the right to equality.
Major international donors have also recognized the importance of the principle of non-discrimination. World Bank President Jim Kim has emphasized that discrimination is both wrong and bad for development. In 2014, the World Bank postponed a health loan to Uganda following the passage of an anti-homosexuality law out of concern that it's financing would support discrimination in Uganda's health sector.
The World Bank, a major donor to Kyrgyzstan with a total commitment of US$349.5 million to the country, should be consistent in responding to Kyrgyzstan's discriminatory draft bill.
The World Bank and other donors should raise concerns, both publicly and privately at the highest levels of government, about how the passage of this bill will undermine inclusive, sustainable development, Human Rights Watch said. Donors should also work with experts to analyze how the law, if enacted, would affect current and future projects, and publish their findings.
“The very pretense of this bill is discriminatory, declaring any positive information about same-sex relations a crime,” Williamson said. “Kyrgyzstan's parliament should remember their commitment to treat all citizens equally and reject this abusive bill.”