A leading human rights group has claimed that lesbian and bisexual women and transgender men face violent abuse, including rape, in Kyrgyzstan, both in family settings and from strangers on the street.

Based on interviews, the Human Rights Watch report found evidence of beatings, forced marriages, and physical and psychological abuse.

HRW wants the Kyrgyz government to acknowledge the problem and protect the victims and European institutions to step up their response to violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

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.

In April police in Kyrgyzstan raided an LGBT community centre. The centre was hosting a dinner for local and international 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.

HRW’s 49-page report, These Everyday Humiliations: Violence Against Lesbians, Bisexual Women, and Transgender Men in Kyrgyzstan, claims the country’s government refuses to protect them or to confront the atmosphere of prejudice.

“No one should have to confront brutality or danger because of who they are or whom they love,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Programme at Human Rights Watch.

“It is time for the government to protect these communities instead of denying they exist.”

The report notes that the US and the Vatican have blocked the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which conducts programmes in Kyrgyzstan, from working to combat hate crimes based on sexual orientation.

Several people interviewed for the report said they had been raped to punish them for not conforming to gender norms, or to ‘cure’ them.