Presidency of Uzbekistan / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Uzbekistan’s law reforms still criminalize homosexuality

Campaigners say new legislation scapegoats and imperils the LGBTQ community

On March 14, Rasul Kusherbayev — a young member of Uzbekistan’s parliament who considers himself an advocate for “positive change in the country” — posted on Telegram that the day same-sex relations are legalized would mark the death of the nation.

Kusherbayev’s statement, made to almost 53,000 subscribers, comes days after the LGBTQ rights group ILGA-Europe called for Uzbekistan’s government to abolish an article in the country’s newly drafted criminal code that punishes same-sex relations between men with up to three years in jail. 

Uzbekistan remains one of only two countries in Central Asia where homosexuality is criminalized. The other is Turkmenistan, one of the world’s most repressive dictatorships.

More than 40 human rights organizations have demanded that Uzbekistan respect its commitments as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council and carry out reforms. The calls came after the new draft of the country’s criminal code categorized homosexual relations as a crime “against family, children and morality.”

“If they say that this is against human rights, I spit on those rights. A nation’s friend won’t put forward such an illogical, unnatural proposal that will ultimately lead to the extinction of generations,” Kusherbayev wrote.

“What you get in Kusherbayev’s comments is both a misunderstanding of the issue from a human rights and criminal perspective but also, you can detect so-called traditional values and so-called Islamic values infused into what he’s saying,” says Steve Swerdlow, a lawyer and an assistant professor of Human Rights at the University of Southern California.

In its 2020 report on Uzbekistan, the U.N. Human Rights Committee raised concerns about ongoing discrimination, harassment, violence and abuse towards the LGBTQ community in the country. Swerdlow adds that victims of abuse cannot rely on the state for protection, as it has effectively criminalized their existence.

According to a member of the ILGA-Europe team, who works with the LGBTQ community in Uzbekistan and spoke on condition of anonymity, categorizing homosexual relationships as crimes against family, children and morality turns LGBTQ people into political scapegoats, as has been seen in nations including Poland and Russia, and will only worsen their situation.

“Now anything that happens with families, anything that happens with ‘morality’ is going to be blamed on LGBT people,” he told me. “It is basically formalizing this practice of instrumentalizing LGBT people for the failures of the state.”

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