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Gay Doctor Who Disappeared in Turkmenistan Resurfaces, Claims Earlier Stories Untrue

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Nov 7, 2019
Kasymberdy Garayev in a video in which he pleads for his family's forgiveness in the event of his disappearance.
Kasymberdy Garayev in a video in which he pleads for his family's forgiveness in the event of his disappearance.  (Source:Screen cap / Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty)

A 24-year-old cardiologist living in the virulently anti-LGBTQ nation Turkmenistan has resurfaced after he and his entire family disappeared in the wake of a story at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty about the challenges faced by gay men living under that nation's harsh regime.

RFE/RL reported on the new developments in a followup story.

The original story was broadcast without identifying the source of the comments, but the Turkmen government hastily launched an attempt to identify him, reports made at the time of his disappearance said. Those reports also featured a video in which the doctor - identified as Kasymberdy Garayev - apologized to his family for having "made [them] cry" - a video he had asked be published in the event he went missing.

But now that Garayev and his family seem to be back and safe, the doctor is saying that the video wasn't intended as any sort of admission or commentary about his being gay and the fate he reportedly feared his sexuality would bring down on him.
Garayev also claims, essentially, that the reports about his anonymously coming out and talking about the problems of being gay in a repressive country are fake news.

Reported RFE/RL:

Kasymberdy Garayev — whose mother and father and siblings had also disappeared — on November 6 denied ever having previously contacted RFE/RL about his plight during a video call on a messenger application. He furthermore said that everything that was reported on him... was false.

As during the several days Garayev and his family were missing, the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan is virulently homophobic, with consensual sex between adults of the same gender being punished with prison sentences of up to two years. But more alarming are the many disappearances of people viewed as undesirable by the repressive Turkmen government.

International watchdogs such as the Human Rights Watch feared that had been the fate of Garayev - and his family - after a profile, purportedly about him, that was broadcast on Oct. 21.

According to Human Rights Watch, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty heard from Garayev on Oct. 24, when he contacted the news organization to say that the government had called him in for a "background check." But half an hour before he was due to report to a local police station, Garayev disappeared. His family also vanished. Neighbors did not know what had become of them, and all that the clinic where Garayev worked had to say was that he was not employed there any longer. Human rights watchdogs feared the worst.

The cardiologist had been a target for the anti-LGTBQ government previously, reported Human Right Watch:

Turkmen police had detained Garayev previously, in 2018, after the authorities used proxies to lure him online into a date with another man. He told RFE/RL, "They used a stun gun, they demanded that I confess to the camera that I was gay." Garayev was released without charge after several hours.

Earlier reports said that Garayev foresaw that being disappeared by the Turkmen government was a possibility, and prepared a video in advance in which he shares his name publicly and offers apologies to his family — even though his family had reportedly harassed him and forced him to undergo so-called "conversion therapy," a sham practice that relies on pseudoscience in its claims to "turn" people into heterosexuals. The practice is considered to be both utterly ineffective and potentially harmful by reputable mental health professionals and has been banned for use on minors in eighteen American states.

"My dears, forgive me," Garayev says in the video. "I've caused you a lot of pain recently. I made you cry."

Seemingly on the verge of tears himself, Garayev goes on to say, "If I am forcibly taken away, know that I am innocent... If I disappear, forgive me."

Though Garayev now says that the video was not addressing his purported homosexuality, he did not say what it was that he was talking about instead. He also claims that he never intended for the video to end up with RFE/RL.

But the circumstances are not so clear-cut. Not only does the Turkmen government apparently use disappearances in its dealings with its own citizens, but it is a well-known tactic of totalitarian governments to use the families of dissidents and others who speak out as a pressure tactic to silence them. Moreover, it's not sexual minorities who are imperiled in that oppressive nation; so are those who share information with news organizations. Notes the HRW report:

People who cooperate with foreign media outlets are often persecuted. More than 120 people have been forcibly disappeared either after being arrested or following a trial, and their families have no official information about their whereabouts or status. In this context, when someone who has been summoned by the police is reported missing, there is a real risk they could be the victim of an enforced disappearance.

Watch the video in which Garayev pleads for his family's forgiveness below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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