A draft bill in Kyrgyzstan aimed at marginalizing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual communities has once again hit the buffers, raising faint hopes of a reprieve for the country’s embattled sexual minorities.
On May 24, a parliamentary subcommittee proposed holding up the bill for a fresh second reading — an unusual move since progress to a third and final review for legislation is typically a formality.
Kyrgyzstan’s anti-LGBT bill was first proposed in May 2014 and closely mirrored a law approved by Russia’s State Duma the year before. But in addition to the fine for the dissemination of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” envisioned by the Russian law, the Kyrgyz bill also proposed jail terms of up to one year for those who “promote homosexual relations” through the media or among children.
The head of the committee on rule of law, order and fighting crime, Janybek Bakchiev, said that although the bill had already passed through two readings in the previous session of parliament, another second-tier examination was required.
“Considering that this [new session of] parliament has not yet discussed this bill — and I think this is a very ambiguous issue important for society — it deserves to be discussed by the MPs of the current parliament,” Bakchiev told the committee. His suggestion was unanimously approved by the committee.
Bakchiev did not elaborate on the specific motivations for further scrutiny, however.
Parliamentary rules allow for a bill to be submitted to a revised second reading only in exceptional cases, such as in the event of “grammatical, editorial or technical mistakes affecting the content of the bill.” The process will mean another round of arduous procedure. For a new second reading to be approved, the committee will at plenary session need to persuade 50 out of the 120 members of parliament to vote in favor of a fresh revision.
The last time the bill got its second reading, last June, it sailed through with barely any discussion and 90 deputies voted in favor. Only two voted the bill down. None of the 28 MPs registered as sponsors of the proposed legislation had to face any questions.
If MPs are getting second thoughts, self-styled nationalist-conservative groups are sticking to their guns. Last week, around 20 members of the Kyrgyz Choroloru and Kalys groups held a rally at what they term LGBT propaganda through the center of Bishkek. The demonstrators were particularly exercised by a show on Kyrgyz state television that featured a public discussion about cases of abuse against members of the LGBT community and a debate on same-sex marriage.
The anti-LGBT bill has hit a few stumbling blocks along its way.
The initial proponents of the legislation, Kurmanbek Dyikanbayev and Tursunbai Bakir uulu, both best-known for their full-throated advocacy for what they cast as traditional values, failed to make it back into parliament in October’s election.
Kyrgyzstan may also be wilting under international pressure. The bill drew a welter of criticism from multiple rights groups, governments, the United Nations Human Rights Council and the European parliament.
“The European parliament [...] deeply regrets the presentation of this draft law, and any actions which could lead to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, and calls on all countries to put an immediate end to the criminalisation of homosexuality,” MEPs stated in a January 2015 resolution.
This is the second piece of contentious and patently Russian-inspired legislation to come off the rails in Kyrgyzstan in recent weeks. Earlier this month, parliament rejected a bill that would have seen internationally funded nongovernment group designated as “foreign agents.” The provision included in that law would have spelled disaster for organizations working on rights issues and other delicate areas, many of whom rely on outside funding.
Although it seems unlikely the anti-LGBT bill will meet the same fate of the foreign agents legislation — it would politically tricky for deputies to outright reject the proposed law — there is a chance the bill could end up withering in the wilderness. That way, both rights organizations and nationalist groups will have been appeased, up to a point.