Turkmenistan’s HIV/AIDS Challenges: Silence, Stigma, and Criminalization

UNAIDS launched a campaign “Decriminalize” aimed at raising awareness on issues surrounding HIV/AIDs on institutionalized levels across the world.

UNAIDS is the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. It aims at achieving zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths, working alongside its global and national partners to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the SDGs.

The campaign highlights  2021-2026 Global AIDS Strategy, directed towards reforming laws that hinder the HIV response, aiming to reduce punitive legal environments affecting key populations. By 2025, the goal is for less than 10% of countries to criminalize activities such as sex work, drug possession, same-sex activity, and HIV-related behaviors.

The UNAIDS campaign underlines that criminal laws target key populations, among them are people who inject drugs, sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, and people living with HIV. Such restrictive laws violate people’s human rights. In addition, criminalizing certain activities pushes people away from the support and services they need, exposing them to harm.

Below are the highlights from the campaign focusing on Turkmenistan and its neighboring countries’ data and laws, as well as major global statistics from 2021-2022 years.

As of today, there is no data on Turkmenistan on UNAIDS website (or other sources) on such aspects as:

  • Rates of HIV among adults and children;
  • New HIV-infections and AIDS-related deaths;
  • Number of AIDS-related orphans;
  • Phases of the HIV epidemic;
  • Rates of testing, Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) coverage, and viral load suppression;
  • Coverage and numbers receiving ART;
  • Elimination of vertical transmission.

Data on combination prevention, such as condom use at last high-risk sex is only available for 2000. The only recent data available is on stigma and discrimination and only based on women’s responses from 2019 MICS.

Laws across countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Source: UNAIDS Laws and Policies Analytics, 2021-2022

  • 94 countries in the world criminalized HIV: Turkmenistan and other Central Asian countries are in this list. In the meantime, the migration crisis in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, spurred by conflicts like the war in Ukraine, has led to an urgent need for HIV services among displaced populations. Central Asian nations have experienced its largest influx since independence. Simultaneously, the HIV epidemic is worsening, with Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan collectively responsible for 93% of new infections in the area.
  • The Criminal Code of Turkmenistan, Article 116 on HIV Infection, punishes for knowingly putting someone at risk of HIV infection with imprisonment for up to three years. Deliberately infecting another person with HIV, knowing one has the disease, carries a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment. These penalties escalate if the acts involve multiple individuals or minors, punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment. Additionally, medical or pharmaceutical workers who infect someone due to negligence in their duties face imprisonment for up to five years, possibly with the loss of professional privileges for up to three years.
  • 125 countries criminalize drug use or possession for personal use. There is no data for Turkmenistan, and with exception to Tajikistan where drug possession is not an offense, in other Central Asia countries, possession of any or all drugs is a criminal offense. According to the campaign, ​​decriminalizing drug use and possession for personal use leads to substantial reductions in HIV incidence among people who inject drugs. This is facilitated by improved access to harm reduction services, decreased violence, and reduced harassment by law enforcement. Repressive policing of drug use has been linked to increased HIV infection, needle sharing, and avoidance of harm reduction programs. Hence, law reform is essential to achieve the goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
  • 67 countries criminalize same-sex relations. In Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan same-sex relations are penalized with imprisonment for up to 14 years. Article 133 of the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan, defines sexual intercourse between men as sodomy, and punishes with a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment, with or without residency restrictions. Repeat offenses or causing the victim to contract sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can lead to imprisonment for five to ten years. Negligence resulting in death, serious harm, or HIV infection incurs a sentence of ten to twenty years in prison, possibly with residency restrictions. In Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan same-sex relations are decriminalized. The UNAIDS campaign notes that countries that criminalize same-sex sexual activity have a significantly higher HIV prevalence among gay and bisexual men – up to 5 times more. Moreover, recent prosecutions amplify this risk even further, with rates up to 12 times higher.
  • 167 countries criminalize some aspects of sex work and 153 criminalize sex work. In Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the law encompasses other punitive and/or administrative regulation of sex work. Yet repeated sex work within a year after an administrative penalty is charged with a fine ranging from twenty to forty times the basic amount, or compulsory labor up to four hundred and eighty hours, or correctional labor up to two years, or imprisonment for up to two years, according to the Article 136 of the Criminal Code, while profiting from organizing and/or managing sexual services is criminalized (in the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan, these are reflected in the articles 137, 138, 139, 140). In Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, both are applied, however in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan there is partial criminalization of sex work, whereas in Kyrgyzstan sex work is not subject to punitive regulations and is not criminalized.
  • The campaign highlights that criminalizing sex work increases the likelihood of sex workers contracting HIV and exposes them to violence from clients, police, and others. Targeting clients worsens sex workers’ safety and health, diminishing condom access, increasing violence, and deteriorating overall well-being.

The campaign underlines that criminalization of key populations decreases their access to HIV prevention services. Criminalization also drives discrimination and structural inequalities and robs people of the prospect of healthy and fulfilling lives.

The campaign highlights progress: Belgium and Australia decriminalized sex work; Zimbabwe decriminalized HIV exposure, non-disclosure, and transmission; Central Africa Republic revised its HIV laws; and Antigua & Barbuda, St Kitts & Nevis, Singapore, and Barbados repealed colonial laws against same-sex activity. Kuwait ended laws targeting transgender individuals, and New Zealand lifted HIV-related travel restrictions. However, challenges remain: 134 explicitly countries criminalize HIV exposure; 20 criminalize and/or prosecute transgender persons; 67 criminalize consensual same-sex activity. Additionally, 48 restrict entry for people with HIV, 53 mandate HIV testing, and 106 require parental consent for adolescent HIV testing.

The campaign also provides additional resources on the topic, such as factsheets, maps, and reports, as well as offers a thematic quiz on awareness on the criminalization of key populations with additional information on the relevant subjects.

Photo: © UN Turkmenistan / 2018 / Eyeberdiyeva
Photo caption: The UN Turkmenistan celebrated

World AIDS Day to raise awareness of
the importance of getting tested for HIV

Hepdelik täzeliklere: / Weekly newsletters: