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Russian officials are prosecuting a woman for spreading ‘gay propaganda’ because she reposted articles by The Guardian and BuzzFeed

Source: Meduza
From Evdokiya Romanova's personal photos on Vkontakte

On July 26, 2017, police summoned Evdokiya Romanova, an activist living in Samara. The 27-year-old woman told Meduza that she’s a participant and supporter in several different civic groups: the LGBT-rights movement “Avers,” the international organization “Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights,” the young feminists’ foundation “Frida,” and the anti-racism group “United.” Romanova calls herself a civil rights warrior and stresses that she herself does not belong to the LGBT community.

Over the phone, police officers told Romanova that they wanted to question her as a witness in an ongoing criminal investigation. When she came in for questioning, however, officers began interrogating her about her own activism online, on Facebook and Vkontakte. Later that day, she was charged with illegally “propagating nontraditional sexual orientations among minors through the use of the Internet.”

In other words, Romanova has been accused of violating Russia’s ban on so-called “gay propaganda.” Police questioned her without a lawyer present, refusing to wait until her attorney arrived, and denying her a chance to review the case materials fully.

In September, Romanova finally learned that she was being charged for reposting content on her social media pages. Her case was transferred to Samara’s Kirov regional court, and it was only there that she could finally read the full text of the charges against her. Romanova, it turns out, is being charged with spreading “gay propaganda” because she posted hyperlinks to the website of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, along with a few articles about the LGBT movement, including a report by The Guardian about a referendum in Ireland to legalize samesex marriage and an article by BuzzFeed about a demonstration by LGBT rights activists in St. Petersburg.

The whole case concerns five hyperlinks and reposts: four were in 2015 and one occurred in 2016. According to expert analysis included in each case file, all acts contained “propaganda for nontraditional sexual orientations.” Additionally, linguists claimed that one of the publications (content that appeared on the Youth Coalition’s website) was actually directed at “forming nontraditional sexual orientations” and “forming distorted views of social equivalence and nontraditional relations.”

The human rights group Amnesty International has launched a campaign to support Romanova, preparing appeals to Attorney General Yuri Chaika, Samara regional prosecutor Konstantin Bukreyev, and regional human rights commissioner Olga Galtsova, demanding that police drop the charges against Romanova. Amnesty International is also calling on Russian officials to abolish the country’s ban on “gay propaganda” and cease the persecution of members of the LGBT community. Romanova told Meduza that there’s been no official reaction to these appeals.

Romanova’s hearing is scheduled for September 18. She faces a fine as high as 100,000 rubles ($1,730). “It’s hard for me to guess what the verdict will be. There can be pressure on the courts in cases like this, when the issue is sexual orientation — especially so-called “nontraditional sexual orientations,” which are taboo in Russia,” Romanova says. The activist told Meduza that she hopes to be acquitted, insofar as her case was investigated with blatant procedural violations, she says. For example, the linguists’ testimony against her is based on error-filled Google Translate versions of the posts and articles she shared on Facebook and Vkontakte. Additionally, Romanova’s Facebook page is closed to everyone except her friends, and she has only one underage friend on the network: her own brother.

Russia’s ban on “gay propaganda” has been in place for four years now. In the spring of 2012, the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly adopted a similar ban authored by then city councilman Vitaly Milonov. Following this legislation, Russian Federation Council Chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko stated publicly that such a ban could be made a nationwide policy. In June 2013, over the objections of LGBT rights groups, the State Duma adopted a law prohibiting the dissemination of “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientations among minors.” Individual violators face a maximum fine of 100,000 rubles, legal entities can be fined up to 1 million rubles ($17,360), organizations can have their operations suspended for up to 90 days, and foreign citizens can be fined and deported.

Since the law was enacted, 15 Russians have been fined for spreading “gay propaganda” illegally, Damir Gainutdinov, a lawyer at the human rights group “Agora,” told Meduza. In 2016, Russian courts heard 12 cases about “gay propaganda,” issuing fines in eight cases. Generally, the people fined for this behavior are those who repost news articles about the LGBT community or publish their own texts on social media. As a rule, individuals have been fined 50,000 rubles ($860) for the offense. Russian courts have, however, acquitted some defendants, for example, when the content they’ve shared online about LGBT movements has been accompanied by a warning reading that the material is intended for adults only.

In January 2014, Russian LGBT rights activists Nikolai Alexeyev, Nikolai Bayev, and Alexey Kiselyov filed a lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that Russia’s “gay propaganda” ban infringes on their human rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. In June 2017, the court ruled that the Russian law is discriminatory, finding that Russia is in violation of Article 10 (the right to free expression) and Article 14 (freedom from discrimination) of the European Convention, ordering the Russian government to pay 50,000 euros each to the plaintiffs. Moscow is currently trying to appeal this ruling.

Russian text by Pavel Merzlikin, translation by Kevin Rothrock

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