Dispatches: Shocked by Russia’s Intolerance

by Tanya Cooper, Human Rights Watch

In recent days the presidents of Germany, France and the United States announced they wouldn’t attend the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, in February 2014. None explained why they decided to skip the Games, but one can guess that the appalling human rights situation in Russia played a part. Of particular concern is the terrible truth the Russian government has been so vehemently denying: routine demonization of Russia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and the government’s discriminatory policies against its LGBT citizens.

Last week a court in Kazan, a city 800 kilometers east of Moscow, fined Dmitry Isakov, a 24-year-old LGBT activist, for violating the law banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.” On June 30, Isakov had held a one-minute picket on the city’s central square, holding a poster that said: “Being gay and loving gays is normal; beating gays and killing gays is criminal.” A simple message of kindness and love, no “sexual relations” discussed.

Isakov is the third person to be found liable under the federal “propaganda” law. On December 3, two other LGBT activists were fined for holding a poster next to a children’s library in the northern city of Arkhangelsk. They are reported to have appealed the ruling.

I talked to Isakov on the phone right after his 40-minute court hearing. Although he had expected an unfavorable court decision, he sounded genuinely troubled. “Of course, I’m very upset. This decision hits everyone who wants to be free to choose who to love.”

Isakov told me he had wanted to take a stand against the “state propaganda of hatred towards LGBT persons.”

“I wanted to highlight the violence against LGBT people by nationalist groups who equal gays with pedophiles, and killings of people, like Vlad Tornovoi, who was suspected to have been gay by his killers,” he said.

The court has ruled that Isakov’s message of tolerance is illegal under Russian law. He found that deeply shocking. So should the rest of the world.

 

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