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Erin Meyer, Columbia Law School student in the class of 2011, sends us this post.  Meyer is a student in the Columbia College Accelerated Interdisciplinary Legal Education program. She is currently a summer associate at Hogan Lovells and a student member of the New York City Bar Association’s LGBT Rights Committee, and has previously interned at the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund.

Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic has won asylum for a young gay man who escaped to the United States after the police in Uzbekistan beat him, threatened to arrest him for having an intimate relationship with another man, and extorted thousands of dollars from him in exchange for his freedom from arrest and torture. Even after he fled the country, the police continued to search for him at his parents’ house. Fearing that he would be persecuted because of his sexual orientation if forced to return to Uzbekistan, he sought the Clinic’s assistance in applying for asylum.

The grant of asylum, 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.  Article 120 of Uzbekistan’s Criminal Code makes “homosexual conduct” a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. The U.S. State Department has reported that prisoners in Uzbekistan face a high risk of torture and abuse. In addition, reports from prominent human rights organizations and expert affidavits prepared for the Clinic’s client confirm that gay people in Uzbekistan are especially vulnerable to being targeted by corrupt police who trap gay men and then demand bribes to prevent arrest and imprisonment under Article 120.

The client (who has asked to remain anonymous because he fears the Uzbek police will retaliate against his family in Uzbekistan if they discover he has become an asylee of the United States) was referred to the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic in January by Immigration Equality, a national organization focused on immigration rights for LGBT individuals. Since then, three of my colleagues from the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic – Donna Azoulay ’10, Larra Morris ’11, and Jennifer Simcovitch ’11 – and I spent many months conducting interviews with the client, drafting affidavits, researching country conditions, and preparing the client for his interview with the asylum office.

For the client, dealing with the loss of the family, friends, and career he left behind in Uzbekistan and becoming accustomed to his new surroundings over the past several months has been challenging on many levels. Throughout the lengthy and emotionally-difficult process of applying for asylum, he demonstrated an incredible strength and determination. Now that he has received a grant of asylum, he is excited and grateful to begin a new life in an environment where he no longer has to live in fear or hide due to his sexual orientation. He has already begun to form new friendships with members of the Manhattan LGBT Community Center and looks forward to finding a job now that he will have work authorization. Concerned that other lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in Uzbekistan are living in danger but do not know how to escape, he hopes his story will reach them and make them aware that countries such as the United States offer asylum to those who are persecuted because of their sexual orientation.

For me and my fellow Clinic students, working on this case has likewise been a transformative experience. Building rapport with the client and gaining his trust and confidence, developing his affidavit and giving voice to his story, tracking down supporting documents from here and abroad, researching and writing a memo of law in support of the application, and staging many mock interviews in preparation for the asylum interview has been an unforgettable, amazing, and rewarding learning experience. The team of students, professors, translators, human rights experts, psychologist, social worker, and immigration lawyers who collaborated on this case and contributed to its success were all so dedicated and talented, and it was a great honor and privilege to work with them this semester.

Columbia Law School Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic students Donna Azoulay ‘10, Larra Morris ’11, Jennifer Simcovitch ’11 worked with Erin Meyer, and were supervised by Professor and Clinic Director Suzanne Goldberg on this asylum petition.

2 comments

  1. US #prison: Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic Secures Asylum for Gay Man from Uzbekistan http://bit.ly/crzHQ5

  2. There are some fascinating time limits in this article but I don’t know if I see all of them heart to heart. There’s some validity but I will take hold opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as effectively

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