A New York-based human rights group has said that a warrantless raid on an LGBT community centre by police in Kyrgyzstan “sends a chilling message.”

Human Rights Watch drew attention to the fact that the police action in the capital Bishkek was the second time Labrys had been targeted in this way.

The centre was hosting a dinner for local and international LGBT groups on April 8th when three officers entered and threatened to arrest anyone who did not produce identification.

They also searched private files at the centre, which also serves as a shelter for transgender people and women who are victims of violence.

Kyrgyzstan is a former Soviet republic in central Asia, home to more than five million people.

Although the majority are Muslim, the country is relatively secular and homosexuality is legal.

However, gay people face considerable social hostility and discrimination in employment, housing and goods and services.

“It’s an outrage that police can barge into a building for no reason, threaten people, and search private files,” said Scott Long, director of the LGBT Rights Programme at Human Rights Watch.

“Police should protect organisations defending human rights, not use their power to harass and intimidate them. The raid sends a chilling message to anyone marginalised or stigmatised.”

According to a Labrys representative, police demanded to see the organisation’s registration documents, statutes, and rent statements.

After threats of arrest, the police gained entry to a locked private office and went through desks and files.

A short time later, the district police chief arrived and said the officers would leave only if Labrys promised to submit its administrative and financial documents to the police station the following day.

Labrys complied with the request.

The raid was carried out on the night Labrys was hosting a dinner for groups from the Anti AIDS Association and Tais Plus, as well as for international partner organisations  COC (Cultuur en Outspannings-Centrum) and HIVOS (Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries) from the Netherlands, and Gender Doc-M from Moldova.

Kyrgyz law does not require citizens to carry a passport or an identity card. Nevertheless, the police often use ID checks to humiliate and arbitrarily arrest people.

The warrantless raid on the Labrys community centre violated the right to freedom of association as set out under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Kyrgyzstan ratified in 1995.

Labrys’ community centre opened in February 2008 and serves as a place for meeting and discussion, as well as shelter for victims of violence.

It was created as a safe space for lesbian and transgender people in Kyrgyzstan to meet, free from the threats and stigma they often face outside.

“The Kyrgyz government can’t ignore the serious problem of violence against women,” said Mr Long.

“Instead of carrying out raids, police should protect safe places that are there to help and support victims of violence.”