Amnesty International has called on Tajikistan to immediately cease a campaign of harassment and violence against people accused of “moral crimes”. Police have seized more than 500 sex workers and a number of men suspected of ‘homosexual behaviour’ since 6 June.
In a series of midnight sweeps in the capital, Dushanbe, police picked up those they suspected of sex work or other “moral crimes” – including a pregnant woman and three men suspected of being gay. They were bundled into police vans and several reported being beaten by police.
“These midnight raids, disguised as a campaign to ensure public morality, are in truth an exercise in discrimination and ill-treatment,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.
“Reports of police beatings, threats, sexual violence and invasive forced medical procedures suggest the Ministry of Internal Affairs needs to address the abuses allegedly meted out by officers as a matter of urgency.”
Local rights groups say police detained around 70 people during the latest raid, on 10 June. Most were released without charge about 36 hours later. However, the fate of a further 30 who were not released is as yet unknown.
Officers forced detainees to have blood tests, and those suspected of being sex workers to undergo smear tests, physically restraining anyone who objected. Several said the officers had sexually humiliated them but did not want to give further details.
Amnesty International has received several reports of police in Tajikistan raping sex workers taken into custody, demanding sex in exchange for their release.
Several of those detained where subjected to forced testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, in violation of their human rights to privacy, bodily integrity and freedom from ill-treatment.
All those detained were fingerprinted, photographed and filmed. Police did not follow the protocol for registering detainees.
Although Tajikistan decriminalized sex between people of the same sex in 1998, the Ministry has openly stated that three men were arrested because they were suspected of ‘homosexual behaviour’.
“Police can’t round people up, hold them for days without access to a lawyer, without warrants or charges, just to impose their own view of public morality,” said Denis Krivosheev.
“When authorities make arrests, they need to follow the basic elements of due process and must take every precaution to treat detainees with dignity and humanity.”