Russia: Defending LGBT Rights is not “Propaganda”

February 9, 2015

Meet Elena Klimova, the latest victim of Russia's new "gay  propaganda" law (Photo Credit: Private).
Meet Elena Klimova, the latest victim of Russia’s anti-LGBT “propaganda” law (Photo Credit: Private).

On January 23, journalist Elena Klimova, the founder of the online LGBT youth support group Children 404, was convicted of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors.” The judgment against Klimova marks the latest assault on Russia’s LGBT community and the continued crackdown on civil society and freedom throughout the Russian Federation.

For nearly a year and a half, the Russian government has sought to silence Klimova and shut down Children 404, an invaluable source of support for thousands of LGBT teenagers, including those at risk of self-harm and suicide.

In October 2013, Vitaly Milonov (the main author of the anti-LGBT law in St. Petersburg that became the basis for the national legislation) filed an official complaint against Children 404. Milonov alleged that the website’s activities represented illegal propaganda and demanded the closure of Children 404.

While that original case was dismissed in February 2014, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s state agency for media oversight, opened a new case against Klimova in November. Roskomnadzor charged that the material published by Children 404 “could cause children to think that to be gay means to be a person who is brave, strong, confident, persistent, who has a sense of dignity and self-respect.”

Last month, Judge Lyudmila Pedan refused to postpone the January 23 hearing, even though Klimova’s lawyer could not attend the hearing for medical reasons. The magistrate’s decision violated the Russian Constitution, which guarantees the basic right to “qualified legal assistance.”

The judge declared Elena Klimova guilty of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors,” and fined her 50,000 rubles (approximately $750 US). While Klimova plans to appeal the sentence, anti-LGBT leaders continue their campaign to close the online LGBT youth support group.

Klimova’s conviction represents the latest use of the national “propaganda” law signed by President Vladimir Putin in June 2013 to restrict free speech and political protest in Russia.

In December 2013, two LGBT activists were fined for publicly protesting in Arkhangelsk. In February 2014, Aleksandr Suturin, a newspaper editor in Khabarovsk, was fined 50,000 rubles after publishing an interview with a former teacher who had been fired from his job for being gay. Last August, Kirill Kalugin was arrested for unfurling a rainbow flag with the words, “My Freedom Defends Yours” in St. Petersburg during the annual paratroopers’ day celebrations.

More broadly, the legal proceedings against Klimova and Children 404 are part of the accelerating campaign against nongovernmental organizations, journalists, social media, and other independent voices in Russia. Building upon the 2012 law requiring NGOs that accept funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents,” the State Duma approved in January the first reading of new legislation banning “undesirable foreign organizations.”

“This law is another sobering sign of how the Russian authorities are quickly closing in on fundamental freedoms and the work of independent civil society groups in the country,” said Sergei Nikitin, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director. “We’ve seen time and again how ideas which threaten fundamental freedoms get railroaded through the Duma and make their way into draconian laws that snatch away the space for dissenting views and independent civil society activism. Sadly, these freedoms can no longer be taken for granted in Russia.”

Russia must end its persecution of Elena and other LGBT activists and repeal its laws that criminalize basic freedoms. Join with Amnesty international and write immediately, in Russian or your own language:

  •  to express concern that Elena Klimova has been found guilty of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” and that her right to a fair trial was violated
  • to urge the Russian authorities to immediately end her prosecution in connection with her Children 404 project, and end the harassment of the project itself
  • to urge them to repeal the “homosexual propaganda law”, and ensure full respect for every person’s right to freedom of expression, assembly and association in Russia

Write today and stand in solidarity with Russia’s LGBT community and with all human rights defenders in the Russian Federation.