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A gay man from Turkmenistan was forced to flee his home country after he was arrested and assaulted for being HIV-positive.
Speaking to RadioFreeEurope, the 23-year-old was granted asylum in a European country after he was targeted for being both gay and HIV-positive.
The man, whose name was withheld to protect his identity, said that he hid his sexuality while growing up because of Turkmenistan’s ban on homosexuality. The country criminalizes same-sex relations between men, punishable by up to two years in prison.
He moved to Russia to attend university at 18, and began to live openly, but was forced to leave the country when he was diagnosed with HIV at 19, as Russia is one of a number of countries that deports foreign nationals living with HIV.
Though he said that he tried to hide his sexuality — including wiping his phone of contacts and files — the man told RFE that police were alerted after he attended an HIV/AIDS clinic in the capital city of Ashgabat in December last year to register for medical treatment.
Two police officers reportedly were waiting for him when he returned for a follow-up appointment.
“The officers asked me how I got infected [and] I told them I didn’t know,” he said.
The following day, three officers appeared at his apartment and took him to a local police station.
“First they questioned me. Then began to beat me badly,” he said. “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.”
He said that they demanded he “sign some documents” admitting his sexuality.
“I refused but they said if I don’t sign it they would tell all my relatives that I’m gay,” he continued. “I had to sign the papers, although I don’t know what exactly was written in them.”
He was told to report back to the police station in January, but faced with a criminal charge for homosexuality — and the belief that police would add a second charge of infecting others with HIV, punishable by up to five years in prison — he instead fled to Russia with the help of a friend living there.
Before Russian authorities became aware of his HIV status and attempted to deport him, he sought the aid of an LGBTQ rights group and applied for asylum in Europe.
He told RFL that while he now lives a free life, he can’t return home for fear that he is still a wanted man in Turkmenistan. He also hasn’t told anyone back home about his situation, believing it would “bring shame” on his parents.
The Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan is one of only two former Soviet states to still criminalize same-sex sexual relations between men — the other is its northern neighbor, Uzbekistan, which punishes homosexuality with up to three years in prison.
Despite bans on sex between men, neither country criminalizes sexual relations between women.
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