By Olga Dzyubenko
ALMATY (Reuters) - The United States has condemned Kyrgyzstan for planning to adopt legislation to ban "gay propaganda", saying the law discriminates and will hurt the Central Asian nation's fragile civil society.
Last week Kyrgyzstan's parliament started debating changes to the nation's legislation which propose introducing tougher punishment for "popularizing homosexual relations" and "propaganda of a homosexual way of life".
The new bill proposes to slap fines or prison terms of up to one year on those "forming a positive attitude to untraditional sexual relations" among minors or in mass media.
"No one should be silenced or imprisoned because of who they are or whom they love. Laws that discriminate against one group of people threaten the fundamental rights of all people," the U.S. embassy in Kyrgyzstan said in a statement.
"Sweeping limits on civil society harm democracy."
Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished nation of 5.5 million which borders China and lies on a drug trafficking route from Afghanistan, is struggling to build the first parliamentary democracy in authoritarian post-Soviet Central Asia. Its two presidents have been deposed by popular revolts since 2005.
The proposed bill has to be passed in three readings and then be signed by the president to become a law.
The U.S. embassy called on Kyrgyz parliamentarians "to oppose legislation that would criminalize expressions of identity or limit civil society".
Human Rights First, a U.S.-based rights advocacy and action group, urged the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama last week to publicly condemn Kyrgyzstan's proposed anti-"propaganda" law and press the government to stop the passage of "this blatantly homophobic legislation".
It said the Kyrgyz bill emulates a similar law in Russia.
Russia, which provides economic support for Kyrgyzstan and has a military air base in the country, came under barrage of Western criticism after President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning gay "propaganda" in June last year.
Critics said that law had effectively disallowed all gay rights rallies and could be used to prosecute anyone voicing support for homosexuals. Putin also banned same-sex couples from adopting Russian children.
"It is unclear how this bill will move in (Kyrgzstan's) parliament. The draft law is still at a very early stage, and so far no one is ready to comment on it," said Kyrgyz presidential spokesman Kadyr Toktogulov.
However, both pro-government and opposition factions in the legislature have already mostly spoken in favor of the proposed law, with some deputies calling for making it even tougher.
(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)