Tajikistan's Ministry of Internal Affairs recently announced it has compiled a list naming 367 suspected gay citizens to test them for sexually transmitted diseases, according to the official journal published by the Central Asian country's Prosecutor-General's Office.
The journal also said prosecutors and police identified the 319 men and 48 women through operations called "Purge" and "Morality" but did not describe the methods used or the purpose of the operations.gi
An anonymous police source told news agency AFP that the government created the registry, because "strict medical records were needed for members of the gay community because such people have a high risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections through infectious diseases."
Neither the Ministry of Internal Affairs nor the Prosecutor-General's Office could be immediately reached to comment on these statements.
Steve Swerdlow, a Turkistan-based Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch — an organization that investigates human rights violations to influence international policy — said human rights organizations were just learning about the new database and confirmed people on the list had to take blood tests.
"What we're learning now is that this registry had been drawn up — we're not exactly sure when — and members of the gay community have been forced to go in to take blood tests to test for HIV," Swerdlow explained.
Although Tajikistan officially decriminalized homosexuality in 1998, Swerdlow said the country has "a severe human rights record" and "is deeply homophobic." He added that the government's latest actions are a continuation of its mistreatment of gay individuals.
"This is being done by the government under the pretext of public health," Swerdlow stated. "What it really reflects is a deep homophobia and fear of the gay community. It also represents an opportunity for police to extort money from members of the community, and non-members of the community, by outing them, the consequences which can be disastrous for these individuals."
Jessica Stern, executive director of Outright International — a group that works to improve the treatment of the international LGBTQ community — also believes the government is using HIV as an excuse to discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
"Study after study makes clear that lesbians and gays experience higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases and lower overall health because of discrimination, violence, shame and stigma," Stern said. "Now, the government is warping the truth to justify singling them out in a grotesque and dehumanizing registry.
Swerdlow hopes the international community will promptly denounce this added threat to the Tajikistani LGBTQ community.
"In reaction to this official database, there should be a strong condemnation at the suggestion that LGBT people would be forced to submit to what could be a very humiliating experience," Swerdlow said. "And when the police have a record of torture, like they do in Tajikistan, it's not a good idea to have security forces dealing with public health."
Stern, however, said she hopes the Tajikistani government itself will reverse these actions and treat all its citizens humanely.
"The Tajik government must immediately discontinue the registry, destroy the confidential names of all those listed and commit to using public health data in the service of all its citizens," Stern demanded. "Every person in Tajikistan must be entitled to a private, consensual sex life regardless of their sexual orientation or health status."