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Human rights activists in Kyrgyzstan are concerned that a new police department tasked with combating human trafficking is forcing sex workers in the capital to undergo testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Set up to tackle sexual exploitation, especially of minors, and to monitor businesses like travel agencies and saunas that are suspected of running prostitution rings such as, the police unit in Bishkek has carried out numerous raids since it was set up last November.
Salamat Adylov, the head of the Department for Combating Human Trafficking and Crimes Against Public Morality, as the new unit is known, told IWPR that his team had instigated nine prosecutions against brothel owners, and tested more than sex workers tested, of whom 65 per cent were found to have sexually transmitted diseases STDs.
This enforced testing — a practice that was stopped in Kyrgyzstan in — has horrified activists, who say it is a clear violation of human rights. Prostitution by individuals has been decriminalised in Kyrgyzstan, although organised activities like running a brothel are illegal. Sex workers report widespread harassment and extortion by police. Although they were given the legal status of witnesses rather than suspects, their passports were taken, and they were photographed and then forced to undergo tests for HIV and other STDs.
Only then they were given their passports back and released. Kabak added that in cases like the December sweep, when the police invited the media to accompany them on raids, sex workers had no guarantees that their faces would not be shown publicly, a clear violation of their right to privacy. According to the Trafficking in Persons Report by the US State Department, Kyrgyzstan is a both a source country and a transit route for trafficked women and children from neighbouring Central Asian republics.
She says her organisation is not against the creation of the new police department or its efforts to combat sex trafficking. However, she opposes forced medical testing, which she fears will drive the sex trade underground. Disease prevention should be tackled through education instead, she says. On January 24, Tais organised a round table with officials from the new department, rights activists and representatives of international organisations to propose ending compulsory tests.