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(photo right, Bukhara Kaylon mosque and minaret) What does this mean for a society? On tour with our driver and guide from Tashkent into the eastern snow-capped mountains my driver reminded me at every bridge and tunnel “no photos’ because there are police or military guards watching the traffic and he was afraid, paranoid after living half his life under a fist.The streets are clean, the trees are trimmed, the public gardens are watered, the weeds are dug out between pavement bricks, students do not organized rallies, workers go quietly to work, students to universities dressed in dark pants and white shirts. Along the way, east to the mountains and west to the desert, every few miles a checkpoint to present the driver’s permits and/or show our passports.But there are NO newspapers here with outside news; no TV stations that broadcast foreign events, except in upper class hotels with international TV channels, such as ours.Yet there is internet that goes far beyond the borders.Health advocates report that the actual number of registered cases has been concealed by the state, no doubt because most are drug-abuse cases which would threaten the illusion that Uzbekistan is a ‘clean’ country.(It’s ironic that due to the harsh repression of homosexuality new gay HIV infections are low.) Needless to say being arrested or incarcerated in this country is rough, dangerous and harmful to one’s health so most people behave as ordered with little overt crime or disturbance by the common man.If our (straight) driver was nervous about my taking photos of bridges or tunnels, at a long distance in a moving car where being seen as very unlikely, then being seen as queer is uppermost in the mind of every LGBT citizen living in Uzbekistan’s cities and villages.Despite occasional scary headlines of “arrests and abuses of citizens by the police for having an intimate relationship with another man”, there is no active witch hunt for gays in the bars, clubs, sports venues or universities.
Police can stop anyone anywhere for anything whether for a real or imagined infraction–or a shakedown.One of the first things we noticed arriving in Tashkent were the numbers of policemen–on the streets, at subway entrances and down in subway stations (where photos are forbidden), in public markets, patrolling pedestrian underpasses of main roads, on major bridges over rivers, cruising the streets in cars and jeeps.They can stop and detain any driver to see their papers are in order–and mostly likely speedup the delay with a few som (money) slipped between palms.Police are present on street intersections, outside theaters, hotels, museums, and of course government buildings.But they aren’t all bad: three of them in a patrol car gave us a ride to our tour office one day when we were lost.