Department for Propagation of Virtue and Punishment of Vice (Secular Edition)

by Nathan Hamm on 2/25/2010 · 15 comments

RFE/RL’s Uzbek service has reported that Uzbekistan’s secular mutaween have sentenced anti-AIDS campaigner Maksim Popov to seven years in prison. The court found that a brochure he distributed is “incompatible with local traditions.”

The Russian-language booklet at issue, “HIV and AIDS Today,” gives detailed information about preventive measures to avoid the deadly disease, including the importance of sterile syringes for drug users and ways to practice safe sex. It explains, for example, how to use condom.

…the court found the brochure amounted to a how-to guide for young people to have sex and use drugs.

A story on Popov’s conviction references a Facebook page set up defending Popov. The page says that Popov was convicted for improperly using needles and the regular financial charges that bring down whomever the regime has issues with at the moment.

The charges of fiscal impropriety come in the wake of years of harassment of NGOs by the Uzbek government via such measures as restricting or blocking access to foreign funds in bank accounts, repeated tax audits, and threatening visits from secret police or others urging NGO heads to close their organizations to avoid trouble. Popov kept Izis open even when the government blocked all access to funds, operating without pay and in collaboration with local community councils and volunteers.

A report on Popov’s conviction at does not mention financial charges.

He faced charges under Articles 127 and 274 of the Uzbek Criminal Code – involving minors in antisocial behaviour and involving people in using drugs or psychotropic substances.

The promotion and defense of “Uzbek values” against slander of the nation and invasion by alien ideologies seems to have heated up over the past couple years. So, it’s hard to say whether or not Popov, who was arrested in January 2009, fell afoul of the government for dealing with taboo subject matter or simply for running an NGO supported with foreign money. It could be and probably is, a little bit of both. Either way, the employment of secularly puritanical rhetoric masquerading as “local tradition” to paint HIV/AIDS education as harmful is appallingly shameful.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Turgai Sangar February 26, 2010 at 11:26 am

Well maybe its’ because the regime has its own interpretation of managing HIV?

Of course, the regime’s move is hypocrite as hell, because its very anti-Islamic policies have worked social degeneration including prostitution and drug abuse (and thus AIDS) in hand and its own petty barons are eager whore-hoppers.

On the other hand, the thing is also that many of these internationally funded (or at least Western-designed) HIV prevention projects (like the one Maxim Popov Works on) are, in practice, advocacy bureaus for prostitution and sexual debauchery. No matter whatever fancy development blabla come up, if you distriubute condoms and offer free health care to prostitutes, you support and encourage the practice – period.

It’s working on people’s nerves. I remember a case of how a Europe-based medical NGO closed its HIV programme in Osh because of the increasing hostilty among the people from the mahallas and neighbouring towns. Its staff was accused of supporting prostitution. The problem was, if you saw the behaviour of some of their expats and local staff (the kind of loud-mouthed local babes that you often find in UN and NGO offices) and their sometimes raunchy agitprop of which they assumed that it would go down well with the youth, they reaped as they sow.

Nathan February 26, 2010 at 11:43 am

…if you distriubute condoms and offer free health care to prostitutes, you support and encourage the practice – period.

So what to do?

You know as well as I and many others do that prostitution existed and would have persevered even if no western NGOs ever set foot in Central Asia. But as long as it’s the kind that stays behind closed doors, everyone can pretend it doesn’t exist, right?

Teenage males especially are in need of some kind of education about sexually transmitted diseases. Pre-marital and extra-marital sex in Central Asia happens, and it pre-dates western NGOs, Soviet bureaucrats, and tsarist governors, period. In my limited, now-dated, and anecdotal experience, there is little awareness of how STDs are spread and how easy it can be to prevent them. I get that these are things that just aren’t spoken about — they were recently and still are in many instances uncomfortable topics in the west, even if we are all drug-using whores — but Central Asia has the opportunity to prevent the explosion of HIV infections.

Turgai Sangar February 26, 2010 at 11:56 am

Not encourage and not try to make it ‘acceptable’ it as all these structures do – that’s what to do.

I agree that prostitution has always been there in all civilisations and I don’t believe that it can be eradicated but it’s certainly possible to limit it. I also don’ believe the standard refrain that it’s all caused by poverty. In a number of instances, it is. But in many more it’s a matter of mindset.

Noah February 26, 2010 at 1:32 pm

So are you saying, “Turgai,” that STD and safe-sex education is wrong because prostitutes and homosexuals deserve to get HIV and die? (Which seems to be the logical end of your conclusions), or are you on the side of the Uzbek government and refuse to acknowledge that AIDS/HIV is a problem big enough that it has to be dealt with?

Turgai Sangar February 27, 2010 at 7:56 am

No-one deserves HIV. I am saying, “Noah”, that people who engage in a certain behaviour should know what they risk and support and live with the consequences. It’s ‘called social responsibility’, as opposed to facilitating that behavior.

As for taking sides… At the end of the day, the regime and these Western sexual liberalisation programmes share a common goal: to destroy Islam and enslave the Muslims. They’re different heads of one hydra. The first does it the thuggish way. The second in a more sophisticated and pernicious way. So for us, there’s not side to chose between those two.

Turgai Sangar February 27, 2010 at 8:10 am
Toryalay Shirzay February 26, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Denial of and suppression of peoples’ need for sexual satisfaction leads to immoral behavior,molestation of children and sexual misconduct.This is very common in Islamic societies due to strict control of women by male relatives and denial of their liberty as mandated by Islamic impositions.It is so appalling that even education to prevent STDs is frowned upon.In practice,since people don’t have the knowhow and the means to stay STD free,what actually prevails in these communities are all manners of suffering,dreadful Std infections,molestation and abuse of children and women.And the nastiest of all is their constant denial of bitter realities of how they live their lives.

Anna February 27, 2010 at 10:41 am

I think that societies where sexuality is taboo are the most unsafe for women and children. I do work similar to Maksim’s and believe that supporting groups that are stigmatized by the general public is an important issue not only from public health perspective but also because these groups end up in inhumane conditions, living on the streets, struggling with alcohol and drug abuse, disowned by their families. I think it is very easy to blame sex workers, drug users and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and call for ‘limits’ and ‘more important issues to be addressed first’ when you are heterosexual male with privilege of knowing English and not knowing much about what stigma and discrimination feel like.
Do you feel the same way about street children? who are HIV positive, engage in sex work including male children having sex with men for money and take drugs?
What are the Uzbek values that produce situations when a number of people end up outside of social networks and living in extreme poverty? Where and how are these values defined? Why is this a problem to support these people?
These are some of the questions that come to mind when I read about Maksim’s case. Why does a person working against discrimination that the government is imposing and producing have to go to jail?

Turgai Sangar February 28, 2010 at 10:57 am

“not knowing much about what stigma and discrimination feel like.”

The Muslims of Uzbekistan feel it every day (and they’re not paid for it by Western donors).

Turgai Sangar March 4, 2010 at 7:21 am

“Do you feel the same way about street children? who are HIV positive, engage in sex work including male children having sex with men for money and take drugs?”

The men who do that must be severly punished. As for the street children: they are children and in the case you describe they are victims of one of the lowest forms of abuse of power.

This is totally different from that so-called ‘lbgt culture’.

The fact that these children are on the streets is all too often because they are from broken homes: the parents are alcoholics, on drugs, or engaged in other libertarian virtues aimed at the destruction of the family.

Toryalay Shirzay February 27, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Anna,thank you and more power to you.As an insider,I like the Westerners to know that the all common abuse of women and children come directly from the ideas and customs mandated by Islam which originally came from sick-minded Arabs having a nasty ,cruel culture.

Turgai Sangar February 28, 2010 at 10:58 am

An insider of what, exactly?

Toryalay Shirzay March 1, 2010 at 12:49 pm

yaxshimsiz,Uzbekistan juda yaxshi!

Turgai Sangar March 4, 2010 at 3:21 am

Hukumdorlar uchun.

Metin March 6, 2010 at 11:33 am

I am not aware of Popov or whosever. What is well-known, noone is brought into custody without a reason. If this person is innocent, let him defend in court. The mass-media tends to make from any criminal case in Uzbekistan a political case to use it to show ‘how savage’ uzbek regime is.
Similar case happened some time before with homosexual rights activist Ruslan Sharipov, who got many prises and recognition in West for his alleged human rights promotion in Uzbekistan. He was jailed for hooliganism and anti social behavior. The media in West made a lot of noise about the case that the guy was freed. Eventually the guy got asylum in US, and continued his ‘human rights’ activity in US, and ended up in prison, this time in US. Did this get the same reaction as it was a case in Uzbekistan? hell – no! If some is brought into custody in US, it is normal – criminal is under fence. If criminal is brought into justice in Uzbekistan – it is usually political case and innocent person is jailed. What a hypocrisy.

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