Relatives of persons jailed for a period between five to eight years for propagating pornography ask for the help of lawyers in reviewing the court’s verdict, says Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service, known locally as Radio Ozodi.   

One of the lawyers of the convicts says it is about 27 people who were detained as a result of an operation carried out by the law enforcement officers in various regions of the country in April, May and June this year.  

The verdict regarding this group of people was passed by a court in June made in June; however, the law enforcement authorities have not published information about that.  

An official source within the Interior Ministry told Radio Ozodi that such information has not appeared in their reports.

Meanwhile, another source told Radio Ozodi that all those persons had been detained on suspicion of homosexuality, “but since the country’s legislation does not provide for punishment for homosexuality, they have been they have been charged with an article about promoting pornography.”  

The lawyer representing some of those convicts told Radio Ozodi on the basis anonymity that the convicts communicated in one general closed chat on the Internet, swapped intimate photos of each other, got to know each other, and had sex with same-sex couples.”  

He said, “Representatives of law enforcement authorities said during the trial that they didn't care about their same-sex relationships but they [convicts] shouldn't have posted those intimate photos and videos on social networks “and propagate this.”  That is why all those 27 people were found guilty of violating Article 241 of Tajikistan’s Penal Code – illegal production and trafficking of pornographic materials or objects.”  

Tajikistan decriminalized homosexuality in 1998, repealing a Soviet-era law, but homosexuals and other sexual minorities still face entrenched social taboos.  Sexual minorities in Tajikistan’s traditional society are afraid to reveal their identity and only tell human rights groups about their lives and hardships.

In 2017, Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry and Prosecutor General’s Office compiled a list of about 370 members of the LGBT community.  The law enforcement agencies said they registered them as people “at high risk of HIV infection.  The list included 319 gay men and 49 lesbians. The Interior Ministry said it identified them during operations “Purge” and “Morality”.

Tajik authorities deny harassment or persecution of sexual minorities, saying the country’s laws protect all citizens equally.  In January 2019, Zarif Alizoda, then Tajikistan’s human rights ombudsman, said at a press conference that there are sexual minorities in Tajik society, but no one persecutes or harasses them. The ombudsman said that Tajikistan cannot follow the recommendations of international organizations on the rights of LGBT representatives.  The reason, he said, “lies in the norms of morality and ethics of relations between people in the country”.

Some members of the LGBT community from Tajikistan travel to Russia and Europe in search of safe shelter, but even there their lives are “fraught with danger”: they say they are forced to hide their identity to avoid being attacked by their compatriots.