It has been a little over an hour since the last militia officer left the Community Centre premises today on 8 April 2008. No victims or traumas were left after the unexpected visit of Kyrgyz law enforcement representatives; however a lot of food for thought was.
It was a cozy dinner with Labrys’ national partners (Anti-AIDS Association, Tais Plus) and those from Netherlands (COC, HIVOS) and Moldova (Gender Doc-M), the staff, the Board and a few volunteers and clients of the Shelter with various issues being discussed in different corners of the training hall (as we call it), when four unauthorized people came in through the door. The three of them turned out to be militia, with one being a district militia officer and two others – his assistants. The fourth person was the head of building cooperative in which the Community Centre is located. The cozy dinner was interrupted with the first aggressive sound of the district officer’s voice, who rudely demanded that literally everyone present at the dinner (nearly 30 people) prepare their documents to be checked.
Without first introducing himself, the officer also demanded that all organizational documents pertaining to Labrys’ registration, rent and financial systems be presented to him immediately. Allegations were made that the Community Centre was a cruising den or some other suspicious place. To attempts at discussing the issue on composed and legislative terms, the district militia officer threatened to detain everyone should he be not presented with identification cards. This was a problem for nearly half of the guests, who had not expected that they would be asked to show their passports and questioned on their registration details. It is not exactly a common thing for ordinary citizens to be always carrying their passports wherever they go unless there is a specific governmental decree demanding to do so.
The surprise militia visit lasted for over two and a half hours, during which the tensity of situation swung up and down in a cosine-like manner. The main point of contention between Labrys affiliated persons and the militia was that for Labrys guests it was a public event to which one might come with presents, but not necessarily with documents, which are usually kept at home for security reasons. For militia officers the case was that Community Centre was rented in an inhabited condominium and thus could also be considered a living quarters, all inhabitants of which must have their documents at first demand.
Majority of explanations and official documents clarifying the status of the Community Centre were disregarded as impertinent by the district officer, who focused on demanding everyone’s passports or detaining everyone if the former condition was not met. At this point Labrys had already contacted a number of human rights activists and lawyers, as well as media representatives, to advise on the situation. With the plea of their soonest assistance, Labrys refused to succumb to the threatening and aggressiveness on the part of militia officers, and insisted upon discussing the issue from legal points of view.
The staunch stance of Labrys only angered the district militia officer, who acted on his threat of calling additional enforcement. The latter arrived quite soon in the form of five other militia officers with one, whose status was higher than that of the district officer. The arrival of militia enforcement, to district officer’s possible inner surprise, only served to mitigate the clash. The head of district militia office proved to be a professional and composed officer, who clarified the situation and kept himself within the bounds of allowed.
Soon after their arrival the Community Centre premises were filled with new participants of the surprise evening with militia – local human rights activists and lawyers. With the combined professional assistance of activists and Anti-AIDS Association consultants, the conflict soon subsided, as it was agreed that should the militia be still interested in organizational documentation of Labrys, we would bring all the documents to them the next day. It was also agreed that contrary to threats of the district officer to take everyone into temporary detention, no such things would be done. By the end of the incident, the last officer to leave the office – the district militia officer himself – was smiling in a peacemaking manner.
After all of the militia officers left the Community Center, Labrys and its guests gathered for a short debriefing session. Unfortunately, it is not the first time when Labrys is visited and questioned extremely aggressively and rudely on the purpose of its existence, which is suspected to be for malicious or illegal reasons. The first time when militia came with an unauthorized visit to Labrys office a few years ago, the officers had thrashed the door, demanding to be let in and threatening that everyone would be raped or otherwise violated if they were not. Thankfully, this time there were no such excesses with the exception of an allegation at Community Centre being an illegal cruising place. However, this could also have been the case because of the presence of our foreign partners and highly qualified and professional allies from national partner organizations.
Learning from previous experience with militia, this time we tried to document every word and action of parties involved on video and photos. The incident will also be covered by various news blogs and information agencies. We will soon update you with pictures and a short video on the event once it is edited, so do check us out in the coming days. Until then we wish you all a peaceful and non-militia disturbed time.