With tourism industry becoming one of the prime attractions to many governments in the world, as it can generate billions of dollars, Uzbekistan government has funds to make misleading claims and broadcast them to the world spreading a false image, with the aim of luring tourists to that country. But travel experts warn not to fall prey to such propaganda.
As the demand for travelling to new places increases, countries like Uzbekistan have started to invest in their tourism campaigns in order to attract tourists and travelers. But the question arises: is everything as idyllic as it seems?
Uzbekistan’s latest tourism campaign shows it as a safe, progressive and open-minded society which accepts all people from everywhere. But the truth is it is still a very dangerous place for people from the LGBTQ community.
As reported in The Diplomat, “It is one of the two former Soviet republics where consensual sexual relations between men is punishable by law. Those charged under Uzbekistan’s Article 120 can be sentenced to up to three years imprisonment, and gay and bisexual men and transgender people are subject to threats, abuse and torture”.
Article 120 of the country’s criminal code is a remnant of its Soviet-era past which is still encroaching on people’s fundaments rights such as the right to privacy and personal autonomy. And although article 120 does not apply to same-sex relations between women, this does not relieve them from the stigma, discrimination and violence inherent in the country towards LGBTQ individuals. So, the reality of the seemingly benign and beautiful holiday destination is that Uzbekistan censors and punishes its own citizens for not adhering to the heterosexual norms of society.
There has been an international outcry from multiple organizations such as the Association of Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) to decriminalize homosexual relations but so far it has not yielded in a positive result.
Human Rights Watch in one of their reports stated that “five men […] told the Human Rights Watch that they had paid bribes of up to the equivalent of US$ 1000 to keep others from disclosing the men’s sexual orientation to family members or the public. Two of them said they had to pay a bribe to the police”.
The same report continued, “Uzbek authorities have dismissed calls to decriminalize homosexuality. In March 2020, during the UN Human Rights Committee’s review of Uzbekistan, an Uzbek government representative said that the “lifestyle [of LGBT people] was not approved by Islam and was not in keeping with the Uzbek mindset”’.
Uzbekistan is not only suppressing people’s rights to choose how they live; it is also using religion to justify its actions. While there’s no denying that Uzbekistan is a beautiful country with a vibrant culture and traditions. It is also a place where if one decides to visit, one must know the reality of the place and not be defrauded by the advertisements.
While you are on holiday, there are people there who are living in fear of being caught every day.
The intention of this article is not to deter anyone from visiting Uzbekistan as that would be counterproductive as there are people whose livelihoods depend on tourism, many of whom might be from the LGBTQ community. And now more than ever they need financial help to fight for their cause. It is to ensure that all of us are more aware tourists and acute observers of things we see in order to know the reality which otherwise might be hidden.
And what about local law for prostitution?
While it is widely known that Uzbek prostitutes are travelling to a number of countries in the world including India, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Maldives, Indonesia and the Philippines mostly with tourist visas and engaging in prostitution either in escort services or by directly pimping sex by themselves, the scenario is totally different in Uzbekistan. For example, in the Philippines, an Uzbek sex worker may find her client on the streets or in nightclubs and bars, in Uzbekistan they would lure a foreigner to their hotel rooms or studio apartments, where they would secretly video the entire sexual act. Either immediately after the client has finished sex or just unclothes for having sex, there would be group of males intruding into the hotel room or apartment and make false allegations stating the man was trying to rape the Uzbek female or had already raped. At this stage, they would be threatening calling the police or filing a criminal case. A puzzled, shocked and frightened foreign tourist will have no other alternative than giving cash and his valuable belongings to the gang for the sake of getting rid of such situation. Following this incident, the tourist cannot lodge complaint with the police, as they would rather ask – “why did you involve in illegal act in Uzbekistan? Don’t you know, prostitution is illegal in this country?”
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