A gay man has detailed his horrific experience of being beaten by police in his home country of Turkmenistan for the simple crime of having HIV.
The 23-year-old spoke anonymously about his ordeal to RadioFreeEurope. He has successfully claimed asylum in a European country, but he is still haunted by the anti-gay brutality he faced at home.
Maksat hid his sexuality when he was growing up in the central Asian country, and he fled to Russia to study business management when he was 18-years-old.
In 2019, Maksat was diagnosed with HIV. He was later deported under a Russian law that sends HIV-positive foreign nationals back to their home countries.
Back in Turkmenistan, Maksat retreated into the closet and kept his HIV-status hidden, knowing he would face discrimination and possible criminal charges if anyone found out.
Gay man taken in for questioning by police when he tried to access HIV treatment in Turkmenistan.
But he still needed to access treatment. Last December, Maksat went to a local HIV/AIDS centre in an attempt to access antiretroviral therapy. He took a blood test and was asked to return two days later.
When he went back to the HIV/AIDS centre, two police officers were waiting for him.
First they questioned me. Then began to beat me badly.
“The officers asked me how I got infected [and] I told them I didn’t know,” Maksat said. He knew not to disclose details of his sexuality because gay sex is illegal in Turkmenistan.
More than 24 hours later, three police officers turned up at Maksat’s apartment and hauled him in for questioning.
“First they questioned me. Then began to beat me badly. They told me: ‘We know where you got HIV. You’re gay.’ I told them that it’s not true. But they kept beating me.”
Police then forced Maksat to sign papers admitting that he was gay. When he initially refused, they said they would out him to his entire family if he did not comply.
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Maksat was also terrified that he would be convicted of “knowingly” infecting others with HIV, an offence that carries a maximum of five years in prison in Turkmenistan.
He is now claiming asylum in an LGBT-friendly country.
He was told to report to his local police station in January as law enforcement authorities in the country close for several days at the end of December. Instead, Maksat took the opportunity to flee his home country.
Maksat first returned to Russia where a friend helped him contact an LGBT+ rights organisation, and he was subsequently able to claim asylum in an unnamed European country.
He now lives in an LGBT-friendly country, but he is still afraid to be completely open about his sexuality. He fears that he will never be able to return home and see his parents as he would likely face criminal charges if he did.
Maksat is terrified that his parents will find out he is gay, saying it would “bring shame” on them. He also worries that police could question his family in an effort to uncover his whereabouts.
Life in Turkmenistan can be extremely difficult for members of the LGBT+ community. Gay and bisexual men can face up to two years in prison for daring to love, and society is largely unaccepting of queer identities.