Author: Grana Ziia, AFEW-Kyrgyzstan
Sergey Bessonov from Bishkek is the head of the organization that protects the rights of people who use drugs (PWUD) – “Harm Reduction Network Association” (HRNA). Sergey himself used drugs in the past. However, he admits that everyone has the right to make his own choice whether to stop using drugs or not.
Now Sergey dedicates his life to the community of people who use drugs. In his interview with AFEW-Kyrgyzstan, Sergey is talking about the challenges of the community of people who use drugs in Kyrgyzstan, drug policy and his future plans. Below are some of Sergey’s thoughts in direct speech.
About the desire to be heard
For a long time, the problem of drug use was solved by using strict bans: prisons, fines, and information that PWUDs are no longer members of our society, that they are somehow bad, dangerous… I myself know a lot of people who died from the overdose, I saw people who spent most of their lives in prisons for using soft drugs. These people were left without work, housing and the possibility to live the life they wanted to.
Now in Kyrgyzstan, the government started to understand that a progressive drug policy cannot be built without a community. However, it is very important for us that the community participation in the development of programs was not just for show. We want our opinion to be respected, considered and trusted. We need the possibility of professional growth.
About the professional growth
The project “Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations” (BtG) started to help us a few years ago. Over the past two years, this project gave people from the community the possibility to take part in trainings on negotiation skills, legal monitoring by the community, analysis of regulatory legal acts.
These trainings helped us to develop some of our skills. Using this knowledge, people from our community started to develop their own organisations, participate in working groups with governmental representatives and implement advocacy programs.
About the new drug policy
Last year, our country started talking about changes in criminal and administrative codes. Governmental representatives finally understood that sending people who use drugs to prison instead of rehabilitation and harm reduction programs is ineffective and cruel.
During the analyses of new regulatory acts that HRNA conducted with the support of the BtG project and AFEW-Kyrgyzstan, we found some negative changes. For example, new amendments, which now started to work, increased the fine for carrying and possession of drugs twice. The new fine is unaffordable, which means that people will again be imprisoned. Now we are negotiating with international and state structures, with other NGOs and explaining to them why this novelty needs to be revised.
BtG also provided us with an opportunity to conduct focus groups among PWUDs. We found out that not all people are aware of the new laws. This creates extortion and corruption. Now we are constantly monitoring new cases of detention of drug users and support people who use drugs.
About the alternative to prisons
According to the new offense code of Kyrgyzstan, alternative punishment that is called probation is provided for people who use drugs and who have committed any kind of offense. Therefore, now a person has an opportunity to avoid prison.
The initiative itself is very good and we now have a lot of work for its successful implementation. We have already come to the agreement with several probation services and they are letting us know if a person who uses drugs came to them.
HRNA also plans to work with judges to explain that we should punish people only for offenses, not for using drugs. People in our country still have many stereotypes towards people who use drugs. These stereotypes can influence judges’ decisions about sending a drug user to prison or probation.
About the needs of the community
People who use drugs almost always remain alone. Parents turn away from them, doctors reject to help, friends betray them, mass media use offensive words, police suspect them in all crimes. Sometimes we become the only home and friend for each other. With our examples, we show that people who use drugs deserve love and respect.
To help our community to be strong and united, the BtG project is supporting our dialogue platform. Thanks to this, we can meet, discuss and stay united. I feel that the community is getting stronger and more confident with years passing by.
Together we build a liberal healthy future in Kyrgyzstan, where every person can get help and fulfill their potential.