Anti-gay bill clears key vote in Kyrgyzstan parliament

Lawmakers in ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly in favour of a law activists say discriminates against homosexuals, in the crucial second of three mandatory readings of the bill. The bill, which would punish "propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation" with jail terms of up to a year and appears a harsher version of a law adopted by ally Russia, has generated concern among activists in the ex-Soviet Central Asian state. Lawmakers passed the bill with 90 MPs voting in favour and only two voting against. The second reading was originally expected to go ahead in February but was delayed. A third and final reading of the law is expected in the autumn ahead of legislative elections in October. In April, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev completed a ten-day tour of several European countries during which he promoted his country's democratic credentials. The European Parliament warned in a January resolution that the bill "could affect relations with the EU" which provides budget support and other assistance to the aid-dependent country. In March, Human Rights Watch said the bill "would not only violate free speech, it would encourage discrimination and violence against Kyrgyzstan citizens." Vigilante groups strongly opposed to homosexuality have gathered momentum in the cash-strapped country in recent years. Experts warn that Kyrgyzstan has serious problems with the rule of law despite a mixed political system and a vibrant civil society. Last month Kyrgyz authorities opened a criminal investigation into an alleged attack on members of Kyrgyzstan's marginalised gay community who had gathered to mark the International Day Against Homophobia. No one was charged for the attack, which saw several self-styled patriotic groups invade a café on the outskirts of the capital Bishkek and intimidate a meeting of 20-30 people. Kyrgyzstan is also considering a law that would brand non-governmental organisations receiving funding from abroad as "foreign agents." The bill, which critics say is another copycat of Russian legislation, was passed at its first parliamentary reading earlier this month.

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