Tourism is a great source of revenue for any country. In recent years tourism has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry with more and more countries wanting to attract visitors. 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 travellers. 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 organisations 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.
The Uzbek government has funds to make misleading claims and broadcast them to the world spreading a false image. It is our duty to not fall prey to their propaganda.