SWAN (Sex Workers’ Rights Advocacy Network in Central and Eastern Europe) in an attempt to raise awareness of the terrible human rights abuses faced by sex workers in Tajikistan, organised a photo flash mob at the AIDS 2014 conference in Melbourne, Australia. The conference learned of the situation in Tajikistan and participants were given details about the recent police crackdown and forced HIV testing of sex workers in the country. To show their solidarity with sex workers in Tajikistan participants at the conference posed for photographs with posters of support and demanded that the arrests stop and that sex workers’ rights in Tajikistan are respected.
NSWP previously reported on the situation in Tajikistan here. It has been reported that since January 2014 more than 1700 individual sex workers have been arrested with more than 500 detained since June in the course of a national police campaign against “immoral crimes”. The BBC reported the Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda as saying, “people who are detained for immoral crimes or have venereal diseases, their names, photos and fingerprints will be entered to a special electronic database.” Despite widespread calls for this crackdown to stop the Interior Ministry continues to defend its actions. Interior Ministry Spokesman Jaloliddin Sadriddinov disagrees that the action is wrong and a breach of sex workers rights. He says:
“This accusation is wrong because the goal of our operation is to ensure the community’s health. Their [the sex-workers’] rights were not violated. To test their health is not only for their own benefit, but also to benefit the community, because they might infect other people.”
But SWAN disagrees with Mr Sadriddinov’s position and strongly disputes that these actions are benefitting sex workers at all. Kristina Makhnicheva of SWAN argues that:
“Sex workers are deprived of their rights [by being] reprimanded publicly. They endure violence from law-enforcement officers who are supposed to be working for the benefit of their communities, but are by no means examples of morality themselves.”
Sex workers in Tajikitan who have been caught up in this crackdown report that the police are using blackmail, rape and extortion as weapons against them. SWAN also points out that forced HIV testing is illegal under Tajik law. It is well known that forced HIV/STI testing is counter-productive and the fear is that these raids in Tajikistan are undoing years of progress in fighting HIV and STIs by driving sex workers underground and away from social support and health services.
Takhmina, a sex worker in Dushanbe, was held for four days as part of the latest crackdown and said this:
“What will they do [next]? They will bring us to the police station and beat and humiliate us and we again will go back to work, because we must survive and we need money,”
Sex workers are an extremely marginalized group in Tajik society, where different aspects of sex work are considered illegal with individuals involved in sex work punished under the Administrative Code. NSWP continues to stand in solidarity with sex workers in Tajikistan and urges the government there to immediately cease its violent and harmful campaign.