(Berlin) – Unidentified assailants brutally attacked an independent blogger who has publicly defended lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights outside his home in Tashkent, Uzbekistan late on March 28, 2021, Human Rights Watch said today.
The blogger, Miraziz Bazarov, had publicly called for the decriminalization of consensual same-sex conduct. He was hospitalized with a concussion, fractured bones, and internal bruising. The police have opened a criminal investigation but blamed Bazarov for instigating events that day.
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Miraziz Bazarov at a hospital in Tashkent after the attack on March 28.
© 2021 Timur Karpov
“The police should thoroughly and impartially investigate this violent assault on Miraziz Bazarov, examining all possible motivations,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “At a time when homophobia is on the rise in Uzbekistan, it’s critical for the authorities to bring those responsible to justice.”
Bazarov, 29, is an outspoken critic of the government and a blogger who provides sardonic social media commentary on alleged corruption and other public interest issues on his Telegram and TikTok channels. In July 2020, Bazarov alleged in an open letter that Uzbek authorities most likely inappropriately spent Covid-19 relief funds provided to the government, saying that the Asian Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund should stop issuing loans unless they put in place strict oversight mechanisms. At the time, security services summoned him for questioning. Bazarov has also repeatedly called for the decriminalization of consensual same-sex conduct, which is punishable by up to three years in prison in Uzbekistan.
The assault on Bazarov on March 28 came hours after an anti-gay mob accosted a group of fans of Japanese animation films and Korean K-pop music who had met during the day for a regular get-together in central Tashkent. Bazarov was involved in organizing the meetings, though he did not attend that day. The attackers apparently perceived members of the fan group to be LGBT.
In a March 28 post commenting on the anti-gay mob, Bazarov said that supporters of pro-government bloggers had begun trolling him in late February after he called upcoming elections “dishonest” and said that he would urge a boycott of the October presidential election if rights violations continued. Bazarov also said in the post that several pro-government bloggers had falsely accused him of being gay and of spreading “LGBT propaganda.”
Police issued an unusual video statement after the confrontation with the fan group at the square on March 28, in which they accused Bazarov of “propagandize homosexuality” and of trying to stoke “conditions for protest.” The police acknowledged that the mob that gathered to protest the fan group had caused “disturbances.” In a separate statement, the police said that 12 people “were arrested for initiating the conflict and taking an active part in it” on charges of hooliganism.
Bazarov was attacked outside his home later that night by three masked men, one of whom beat him with a baseball bat, media reported. The attack left Bazarov with internal bruising, a fractured leg, and a concussion. He was hospitalized right after the attack and remains hospitalized.
The police are obligated to ensure that their investigation into the attack is effective and capable of identifying those responsible and bringing them to justice, Human Rights Watch said. They should ensure that all possible motivations are investigated and that the authorities’ views of Bazarov’s advocacy for equality, LGBT rights, and other issues of social justice do not affect their investigation.
This violent attack against a blogger who defends LGBT people’s rights raises alarm bells about the safety of LGBT people in Uzbekistan, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch said earlier in March that gay and bisexual men in Uzbekistan face arbitrary detention, prosecution, and imprisonment as well as homophobic violence, threats, and extortion.
Uzbek law has no provision for hate crimes, or for treating crimes as aggravated offenses if they are motivated by hatred based on discrimination. Uzbekistan has yet to adopt a comprehensive anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected ground.
Several deputies in parliament have spoken out against LGBT people in the last two days, contributing to the anti-LGBT environment in which the recent violence and harassment took place.
Members of Tashkent’s diplomatic community have expressed concern about the events, with the United States Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Daniel Rosenblum, calling on the “Govt of Uzbekistan to investigate the beating of blogger Miraziz Bazarov, who exercised his #FreedomofExpression in support of the LGBTI community.”
“Homophobia, discrimination, and violence against LGBT people and those who support LGBT rights have no place in a rights-respecting country,” Williamson said. “Uzbekistan’s highest officials should condemn these gross abuses over people’s sexual or gender identity and ensure that those responsible are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”