I am Gay and Muslim

Human Rights Watch has condemned the banning of the documentary film I am Gay and Muslim by officials in the Asian Islamic nation of Kyrgyzstan.

I am Gay and Muslim depicts gay men in Morocco describing their lives and their religious views. On September 27, Kyrgyz authorities illegally confiscated a copy of the film the day before it was scheduled to be screened at a local cinema in Bishkek, the capital. The next day, police prevented film festival organisers from showing another copy at the same cinema.

“The Kyrgyz authorities have no legitimate basis for banning this film,” said Graeme Reid, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “Although not everyone in Kyrgyzstan may like this film or agree with its content, the authorities should respect free speech by allowing the film to be screened.”

The documentary is one of dozens of films included in the “One World” film festival, organised annually by local human rights groups for the last five years and shown in numerous cities across Kyrgyzstan.

In response to a complaint filed by the chief mufti of Kyrgyzstan to the General Prosecutor’s Office and the State Committee on Religious Affairs, National Security Service (KNB) officers on September 27 took a copy of the film from the Manas cinema in central Bishkek, where the film was to be screened the next day. Festival organisers informed Human Rights Watch that the KNB officials had no search warrant and provided no official documentation permitting them to confiscate the film.

The Kyrgyz State Committee on Religious Affairs assessed the content of the film and determined it to be “extremist,” “offensive to Muslims,” and “inciting interreligious hatred.” Citing this analysis and the Kyrgyz law on “counteracting extremist activities,” the General Prosecutor’s office ordered the film festival organisers to refrain from screening I am Gay and Muslim.

The festival organisers refused to comply and attempted to show another copy of the film at the Manas cinema on September 28, as scheduled. Over a dozen law enforcement officers arrived and prevented the screening. Police ushered members of the audience out of the theatre after they were allowed to participate in a short discussion about the film with its director, Chris Belloni of the Netherlands.

The 59-minute documentary, released in March, has been screened in over a dozen countries, including the Netherlands, the United States, Ukraine, and Serbia.

Using “extremism” legislation to ban this film is a misuse of the law to stifle protected speech, Human Rights Watch said.

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