A young man in Turkmenistan who detailed his tormented life being gay in a conservative country has vanished along with his family after going to a police station where he had been summoned.
Twenty-four-year-old Kasymberdy Garayev — whose mother and father and siblings have also disappeared — worked as a cardiologist at a prestigious clinic in Ashgabat, the Turkmen capital.
He recounted to RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service the many problems he had being gay in Turkmenistan — where homosexuality is still considered a crime — in a story published on October 21.
Garayev described the massive pressure he was under from both his family and officials in Turkmenistan, where being gay is punishable by up to 2 years in prison.
He said that only members of his family knew about his sexual orientation and even they attempted to convince him to “live a lie” and conceal the truth from everyone.
Their efforts to “help” him included trying to forcibly marry him in arranged marriages, forcing him to seek counseling from psychiatrists and imams, and suggesting he sleep with a prostitute to become a “real” man.
Garayev said that police had ridiculed and beaten him before also administering electric shocks after one detention.
Garayev told RFE/RL that he hoped by telling his story he could help others in Turkmenistan who were in a similar situation.
Turkmen authorities reacted to the publication of Garayev’s story by unleashing the security service to scour the health sector in Ashgabat and find the person, who was referred to in reports under the pseudonym “Kamil.”
Garayev was among those called in by police.
On October 24, he went to a police station after being summoned.
It was the last time he was heard from.
RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service contacted the clinic where Garayev was working only to be told “this person no longer works here.”
Attempts to find Garayev’s family also failed after finding out that the family was no longer living in their home in Ashgabat and the neighbors didn’t know what happened to them.
Turkmenistan, starting with its first president, Saparmurat Niyazov, and continuing in 2006 with President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, has been working for years to construct the model Turkmen citizen.
Authorities dictate what is proper behavior, what type of clothes can be worn, what background a person needs to work in the government, even what color people’s cars can be.
And one thing authorities insist a Turkmen citizen should never do is portray anything in Turkmenistan as being less than perfect.
Those who stray from such precepts face consequences, prompting serious concerns about Garayev’s situation.
WATCH: Think Turkmenistan Is Funny? Think Again
The Prove They Are Alive campaign has already documented 121 cases of people who were imprisoned in Turkmenistan and never heard from again.
Garayev had even recorded an emotional farewell video message to his family, apologizing to them for any problems he may have caused them for coming out publicly as being gay, but pleading with them to “accept me for what I am” as he said goodbye to them.
“I really did not mean to harm you by my behavior,” he said, very emotional and crying. “I am sorry! If I am gone, don’t blame me! Dad, don’t be too nervous, otherwise you will get sick. Mom…don’t worry either. Kovus, keep an eye on them all. Forgive me! Kovus, be careful, keep an eye on everyone.
“Kyas, be considerate and learn to think a little. Act considerately, be careful! Akja, my little sister, you haven’t seen anything yet, only tears. Forgive me too!… Akjahanjan, I hope you grow up a beautiful, prominent girl. Be a good girl! I guess I won’t see how you grow up. I am sorry! All be happy and honest. Live in a happy family, but now without me. Do not worry. I beg you again, forgive. Sorry! I kiss you all. Farewell!”