Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic has won asylum for a gay man who feared persecution because of his sexual orientation if forced to return to his native Uzbekistan.
The grant, issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, comes at a time when gay people in Uzbekistan face serious threats, both from police and the surrounding community.
"In Uzbekistan, I lived with terror every day,” said the man, who remains anonymous out of fear of continued persecution. “I was arrested and abused by the police for having an intimate relationship with another man. Even after I escaped the country, the police have tried to track me down at my parents’ home, and I know if I had to return, my life would be in danger.”
The Uzbek Criminal Code makes “homosexual conduct” a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. The U.S. State Department has also reported that prisoners face a high-risk of torture and abuse; human rights organizations confirm that gay men are especially vulnerable.
“Our client’s situation highlights the severe risks that gay people face throughout Uzbekistan,” said Erin Meyer ’11, a student who worked on the case. “The police trap gay men, extort them, and send them to prison if they do not pay thousands of dollars in bribes. Our client had already been threatened with arrest and extorted and knew that prison would be next, if he did not escape.”
The client was referred to the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic by Immigration Equality, a national organization focused on immigration rights for GLBT individuals that provided important assistance in the case.
“In Uzbekistan, the police treat the ‘homosexual conduct’ law as a free pass that lets them abuse gay people both physically and politically,” said Donna Azoulay ’10, who also helped prepare the asylum application. “Asylum will allow our client to remain in the United States and begin to rebuild his life without fear that the police stand ready to take him away.”
Since January, four students from the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic —Azoulay ’10, Larra Morris ’11, Meyer ’11, and Jennifer Simcovitch ’11 — prepared the asylum application. The students spent many months conducting interviews, drafting affidavits, researching country conditions, and preparing the client for his interview with the asylum office.
“We are thrilled to have been able to help this young man obtain safety in the U.S.” Morris said. “No one should have to live in fear or hide due to his sexual orientation.”
Columbia Law School’s Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic addresses cutting edge issues in sexuality and gender law through litigation, legislation, public policy analysis and other forms of advocacy. Under the guidance of Professor Suzanne Goldberg, clinic students have worked on a wide range of projects, from constitutional litigation to legislative advocacy to immigration cases, to serve both individual and organizational clients in cases involving issues of sexuality and gender law.