12 February 2013
By Agora Human Rights Association
A non-governmental report
"The promotion of homosexuality has taken on a broad scope in modern-day Russia. This kind of propaganda is carried out through the media, as well as through the active staging of public protests promoting homosexuality as normal behaviour. It is especially dangerous to children and young people, who are not yet capable of critically evaluating this avalanche of information that falls on them on a daily basis. In the light of this, it is necessary to first and foremost protect the younger generation from the effects of homosexual propaganda. That is the aim of this bill." [From the Explanatory Notes to the Federal draft law "On Introducing Amendments to the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offences."]
This is how State Duma deputies justified the need for the adoption of a federal law which places same-sex relationships of citizens on a par with socially dangerous acts, thereby unjustifiably restricting the legal rights and freedoms of LGBT people.
The first law of this kind was passed by the Ryazan region Duma, which in 2006 introduced an amendment to the local Law on Administrative Offences: Article 3.13. "Public acts aimed at promoting homosexuality (sodomy and lesbianism) among minors." Currently, similar laws are in force in 11 regions of Russia and have been initiated in a further 7.
In researching examples of violence against gays and lesbians, this report studied issues to do with the legal reaction of the state to violations of the legal rights and freedoms of LGBT people. This review only studied issues related to physical assaults and threats of violence, and did not deal with typical experiences of hate speech, discrimination and stigmatisation.
One of the report's authors himself fell victim to a certain extent to the atmosphere of hate surrounding the LGBT community. When in May 2011 he became involved in the case of the attack on Elena Kostyuchenko, acting as her legal representative, and gave a number of comments to journalists, he was sent two text messages: "You scum you'll go the same way as Markelov. Watch out!" and "Burn in hell, you c…, together with your client the lesbian! You will die like Markelov!" In line with long-established safety guidelines laid down by the Agora Human Rights Association, these types of threats to lawyers are always taken seriously, so he reported the crime to the Basmanny Police Department. On 4 July 2011, the police department for the Basmanny District of Moscow decided against launching a criminal case.
It should be noted that to date the only report on LGBT rights in Russia has been written and published by the Moscow Helsinki Group in 2009.
Acts of violence against LGBT people
The monitoring and experience of conducting criminal cases concerning physical violence against members of the LGBT community show that crimes of this type are still not fully out in the open. However, where before this reluctance to speak out was more understandable, at a time when victims declined to ask the police for protection out of fear of revealing the truth about their sexual orientation, today it has become more artificial in nature:
It is not insignificant that crimes against LGBT people are generally committed by two groups of people: nationalists and so-called "Orthodox activists." That said, nationalists use more aggressive methods in their fight against the LGBT community than the "Orthodox activists," for whom it is more important to put on their own unique show using religious paraphernalia (crosses, icons), hymns, prayers and moral preaching about the sin of same-sex love. Throwing eggs and ketchup, and snatching rainbow flags off people, actions which the "Orthodox activists" also use in their fight against "the fall from grace," are legally classified as administrative offences rather than as crimes. An analysis of unlawful acts committed against LGBT people shows that violent crimes are primarily committed by nationalists. However, it should be noted that during public demonstrations staged by LGBT activists, groups of nationalists and "Orthodox activists" join forces and act as a united front against the people taking part in these protests.
Over the last 7 years (since 2006) the report's authors have recorded at least 58 separate incidents of violence against LGBT people, during which time hundreds of gays and lesbians have suffered. Fifty of these reported incidents show clear signs that they were motivated by hatred and hostility.
One of the first signs of widespread dissatisfaction among nationalists and "Orthodox activists" came in 2006, when members of the LGBT movement stated their intention to stage a Rainbow Without Borders festival in Moscow. That was the moment when LGBT activists began openly proclaiming their rights and drawing public attention to the problem of LGBT discrimination, something to which the nationalists and "Orthodox activists" (Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers, Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods and Union of Christian Revival) were quick to respond.
In 2006, LGBT activists declared their intention to stage the first gay pride march in Moscow as well as the international festival Rainbow Without Borders. Moscow City Hall refused to give permission for the gay pride march to go ahead, citing security concerns. Despite the ban, activists still decided to take to the streets of Moscow.
The website of the Russian All-National Union posted a notice stating that "those taking part in these filthy events... take full responsibility for everything they may be subjected to as a result of the actions of Russian people who are protecting their land, ancestral faith and way of life."
It should be noted that representatives of the main religions in Russia, who were firmly against the holding of the gay pride march in Moscow, did not hold back from making homophobic statements either.
In an open letter to the Moscow Mayor, His Holiness Patriarch Aleksi II said: "I would like to thank you for the decision you took not to allow this public promotion of immorality... While acknowledging its pastoral responsibility towards people who have such tendencies, and urging them to reform, the Church at the same time is firmly opposed to any attempts to present this sinful tendency as the norm and an example for others to follow." [Source: http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/97802.html]
For his part, the Supreme Mufti of the Central Spiritual Board of Muslims of Russia Talgat Tadzhudin said: "Members of sexual minorities can do what they like, but only at home or somewhere in a secluded spot in the dark. If they still decide to go out on the streets then they deserve to be hit out at. All normal people will join in with this... Having an unconventional sexual orientation is a crime against God. The Prophet Muhammad ordered homosexuals to be killed..." [Source: http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/649835]
On 1 May 2006, "Orthodox activists" and nationalists, under the leadership of deputy of the Legislative Assembly of the Vladimir Region Igor Artemov, did not bother waiting for the festival to be called off and headed to the Renaissance Event Club nightclub, which was hosting an LGBT party. After blocking the exits to the club, the people who had gathered outside (by various estimates 150-300 people) started throwing eggs, bottles and stones at the club. In addition, several of the people in the club were beaten up. The police did not intervene and none of the attackers was arrested.
The attackers then moved on to the Three Monkeys club, which was also hosting an LGBT party. OMON riot police promptly turned up to disperse the "Orthodox activists" and nationalists, who were looking for a fight. Around 30 people were arrested and charged with administrative offences.
That same night the gay club Tematik was set alight. According to eyewitnesses, the attackers looked like the skinheads who had set fire to the Art Centre on Krutitsy, the building in which the club leased its premises. By the time the fire brigade arrived the building was completely on fire. The people responsible were not identified.
The first gay pride march in Moscow was broken up by the police with the direct involvement of "religious activists" and nationalists. Many of the event participants were arrested and fined for administrative offences. It should be noted that the presence of a large number of police officers at the gay parade did nothing to put off the people who were opposed to it, and who openly attacked the rally participants and beat them up.
One of those beaten up and detained by the police at the gay pride rally was Bundestag deputy Volker Beck. He later said that he had been set upon by skinheads. The response of the police was to arrest him and release the nationalists who had attacked him.
In May 2007, LGBT activists decided to hold another public event in support of LGBT rights. However, the results of this event were very similar to the previous one: the police detained several of the participants and opponents of the rally were allowed to beat them up with impunity.
It is noteworthy that in 2008, on the day announced for the holding of the next rally, "Orthodox activists" and nationalists gathered on Tverskaya Street to voice their protest. But the rally in support of LGBT rights took place at a different location. Neither the police nor the opponents of the march were prepared for such a turn of events; as a result none of the rally participants was arrested.
In May 2009, a human rights event called Slavic Gay Pride was held in the form of a picket. The event was broken up by the police and most of its participants arrested and beaten up.
In 2010, LGBT activists again used a tactic to distract their attackers. The press were given misinformation about the location of the demonstration, where the police, as well as "Orthodox activists" and nationalists, were waiting for them. The location for the event was announced as Kadashevskaya Embankment at the delegation of the European Union, but the LGBT activists led their march along Leningradsky Prospekt. The rally passed off without arrests or incidents.
The gay pride march of 2011, at which Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Kostyuchnko (see below) was assaulted, caused quite a stir in the press. On the eve of the rally she wrote an entry in her LiveJournal blog: "Why I'm going to the gay pride march today," which called on people with homophobic views to be rational and not feel hatred towards the LGBT community. Elena also said that she would attend similar events in the future even if she was hit on the head with a baseball bat. Fortunately she did not get a baseball bat on her head that day, but during a fight provoked by the "Orthodox activists," Roman Lisunov, who was at the rally, hit Elena on the head with his fist.
The gay pride march in 2012 did not have a happy ending either: the event was broken up by the Moscow police, and many of the participants were arrested and beaten up. In particular, Elena Kostyuchenko was again a victim: she had her dress ripped and took another beating.
Against a background of six years of continued opposition to the LGBT community in Moscow on the part of City Hall, the police, nationalists and "Orthodox activists," attacks on nightclubs, beatings and killings of LGBT people have carried on unabated in the regions.
It is noteworthy that until now the "Orthodox activists" have only been active in Moscow, while violent crimes against LGBT people in the regions have in the main been committed by nationalists or homophobic individuals.
According to the above-mentioned report by the Moscow Helsinki Group, in 2007 at the Moloko nightclub in Yekaterinburg, which was hosting an LGBT party, a person known only as D was brutally beaten. The victim sustained multiple injuries and died at the scene. The word "Faggot" was written on the victim's chest in his own blood. Information about the official investigation into the crime was completely closed, but according to unconfirmed reports the culprits were identified and given suspended sentences.
It should be noted that during the investigations, eight cases of the murder of gay people in different regions of Russia were uncovered, but in these incidents the motive for the killings could not be reliably established, which does not in itself, however, rule out a motive of hatred.
Acts of violence
In 2005, in Nizhny Novgorod a group of people became active who were intent on tracking down gays at nightclubs, beating them up and robbing them of their possessions. The law enforcement agencies at the time said that there was no such concept as "queer-bashing:" situations of this type could only be treated as simple cases of assault or robbery. According to information from the law enforcement agencies, investigations were carried out but the attackers were never identified.
On 3 March 2007, at the Zhara nightclub in Kaliningrad, where an LGBT party was being held, several of the guests were beaten up. The beatings were accompanied by obscenities and homophobic remarks directed at the people on the receiving end of the beatings. Since none of the people attacked went to the police to report the crime, no investigation into the incident was launched.
In May 2007 at the Limpopo Aqua Park in Yekaterinburg, two security guards attacked two gay men and beat them up, calling them faggots and demanding that they leave the water park. The victims reported the crime to the police, but they were the ones that ended up having a criminal case opened against them.
In December 2008 in Novosibirsk, a group of skinheads attacked two gay men. The victims said that their attackers first asked them for cigarettes and then started complaining about how they were dressed and showing them an iron chain with which they "kill non-Russians and queers." The skinheads then started attacking them. The victims went to the police, where officers gave various reasons for not taking down the details of the crime from the victims, who insisted that it was a hate crime. The attackers were not identified.
In May 2008, LGBT activists taking part in a picket in St. Petersburg were attacked by four unknown assailants. One of the protesters, Executive Director of the Russian LGBT network Igor Petrov, said that the attack started as people were going home after the picket and after the police had left. The victims went to the police but this failed to produce any results. The attackers were not identified.
In September 2008, visitors to the Hunter nightclub, which was holding an LGBT party, were arrested and beaten up by the Krasnoyarsk SOBR special police. "Criminal investigation operatives, supported by special officers from the Central Department of Internal Affairs for the Krasnoyarsk Territory, carried out a preventive control operation at this establishment. The aim of this special operation was to detain and process people with unconventional sexual orientations who regularly meet in this club," said the Krasnoyarsk Territory Central Department of Internal Affairs.
In 2010, a similar story took place in the Krasnodar Territory. Local OMON officers carried out a raid on the Picasso nightclub and arrested people inside the club. All those arrested were subsequently released. The Krasnodar Territory Central Department of Internal Affairs said "The raid was carried out as a result of complaints from residents of neighbouring houses regarding groups of men in the area around the club dressed in women's clothes and behaving indecently."
On 29 January 2011 in Syktyvkar, the chairman of the non-profit organisation A Different Point of View, Artem Kalinin, was beaten up while defending LGBT rights. Two young men walked past him on a street on Syktyvkar. One of them shouted at him "Is it you who's sticking up for queers on TV?" "I answered him in order to try to calm him down and get him to go home," Artem Kalinin, 26, recalled. "Then one of them ran up to me and threw himself at me, resulting in me falling face down in the snow on the pavement. He then started punching me, so that I couldn't even stand up." A criminal case was opened into this incident.
On the evening of 29 March near the entrance to his own home, Artem Kalinin was again attacked by an unknown assailant, who threatened to kill him and hit him in the head several times with an iron-tipped club. A criminal case was opened into this incident.
In May 2011 at a nightclub in St. Petersburg which was hosting an LGBT party, several of the guests were beaten up. At the entrance to the club the attackers showed the security guards police ID cards, which is why, according to the security guards, they had to let these aggressive people into the club. A criminal case was opened into this incident but the attackers were not identified.
In November 2011, Bulat Barantayev, an LGBT activist in Novosibirsk, was beaten up. The victim wrote in his blog that the attack happened as he was leaving City Hall, where he was collecting the response from officials to his application to hold another street protest. The victim went to the police, where he was told that an inquiry would be conducted, but it failed to produce any results.
On 27 December 2011 in Novosibirsk during a rally "For Free Elections," an LGBT activist who was waving a rainbow flag was beaten up. Within a few minutes unknown young people attacked him and beat him up.
In May 2012 in Saratov, people taking part in an LGBT rally were beaten up by nationalists. According to eyewitnesses, three burly young men wearing camouflage gear and army boots attacked a group of rally participants, who ran off after the attack while the nationalists calmly walked away.
In April 2012, visitors to the Blue Oyster nightclub in St. Petersburg were severely beaten. At the entrance to the nightclub unknown people showed security guards police ID cards. Several of the victims went to the police but no criminal case was opened.
On 12 June 2012 after a rally to mark Russia Day, a group of nationalists carried out an attack on LGBT activists in St. Petersburg. Up to 15 people were injured. The attackers were subsequently identified. A criminal case under Article 213, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code (on Hooliganism) was initiated. Dmitry Dinze, lawyer for the victims, has stated that the investigation into the attack is going ahead in a passive manner, and that the necessary investigative work to collect evidence proving the suspects' guilt is not being carried out. Moreover, the case against one of the suspects was dropped because he was deemed not to have been involved in the crime, even though there was enough evidence to the contrary. The lawyer has now filed a complaint about the inaction of the investigators.
In August 2012, four drunken young men broke into the gay club Paris Life in Tyumen and, shouting "Faaa...gots!," started beating up people in the club and throwing furniture around. The attackers were arrested but the police dropped the criminal case against them, advising the victims to seek a private prosecution in the magistrates' court.
On 20 January 2013 in Voronezh, LGBT activists staged a picket against the adoption by the State Duma of a bill on homosexual propaganda among minors. During the protest unknown individuals attacked the protesters, one of whom was beaten up. A criminal case was opened into this incident.
At the beginning of 2013, several protests were held against the adoption by the State Duma of a draft law "to ban homosexuality." The events organised by LGBT activists ended in arrests and (with the full complicity of the police) the beating up of protesters by "Orthodox activists" and nationalists. The law enforcement agencies are conducting inquiries into the attacks on the protesters.
It is clear that the above-mentioned incidents of attacks on members of the LGBT community paint only a partial picture of the acts of violence directed against them. However, the results of a survey carried out in 2007 on the website Qguys.ru provides more information. Of the 3,800 people questioned, 27.17% said they had faced physical violence because of their sexual orientation.
In addition, the facts of the violent crimes described in this report show that the law enforcement agencies are utterly failing to carry out their duty to bring those responsible to justice.
A clear example of this is the criminal case against Roman Lisunov, who in 2011 at a gay pride march hit Elena Kostyuchenko on the head. Doctors diagnosed her as having suffered "bruising to the soft issue of her head and a baro-acoustic injury to her left ear." A criminal case was opened under Article 115, Section 2, of the Russian Criminal Code, on the infliction of bodily harm as a result of hooliganism. The investigation into the case continued for more than a year, victims and suspects were questioned, and identity parades and other investigation activities conducted. However, despite the large volume of evidence against him, the case against Lisunov was dropped, since medical examiners concluded that Elena had not suffered any bodily harm. The investigators were not bothered by the fact that the collected evidence (eyewitness statements, including from police officers, medical documents, photograph and video materials) fully confirmed Lisunov's involvement in committing an act of violence against Elena. The refusal to prosecute was based solely on a formal pretext: the absence in Lisunov's actions of evidence of a crime under Article 115 of the Russian Criminal Code. The investigators did not consider it necessary to check whether there was any evidence in Lisunov's actions of a crime under Article 116 of the Russian Criminal Code. As a result of this, the Tver district court in Moscow declared the halting of the criminal investigation unlawful. However, this had no effect either: the criminal case against Lisunov has not been reopened. The court is currently considering a complaint concerning the inaction of the investigation, which is not complying with the earlier decision of the Tver district court in Moscow.
In this way Lisunov has avoided prosecution for the last 18 months and the investigative agencies are flatly refusing to acknowledge a hate motive in his actions.
It should be noted that there has never been a single criminal case in Russia which has acknowledged that a crime committed against an LGBT person was motivated by hate. Criminal cases, if they are instigated at all, are instigated based on the motive of hooliganism or are dropped and the victim told that the case is a private matter and they should consult the magistrates' court.
The authorities, in deliberately not performing their duties to protect the legal rights and freedoms of LGBT people, and furthermore punishing them for asserting their rights, are sending a clear message to this group of Russian citizens, who number around 7 million people, that they have been stripped of their inalienable constitutional rights. This threatens the basic principles of protecting the individual, and not just in the LGBT community but for every citizen of Russia. The Russian authorities have in effect excluded LGBT people from the country's legal framework, and this is not simply about the law "on banning homosexual propaganda." People should be under no illusions that its scope will be limited to "propaganda:" it will cast its net far wider. Through their actions the authorities are establishing the opportunity for people to use violence against a specific group of people in the full knowledge they will not face punishment.
In playing to the radical and extremist elements of the Russian population with their poorly thought-out and clearly homophobic initiatives during the past year, State Duma deputies and other government officials are in effect encouraging more of these hate crimes against gays and lesbians. In this regard it is definitely worth giving a special mention to Deputy Milonov from the St. Petersburg City Legislature, and deputies from the Arkhangelsk and Ryazan regions, who have been so active in promoting clearly discriminatory legislation banning the promotion of homosexuality. But this activity has a downside. For the first time in Russia's recent history the topic of gay and lesbian rights is in the political spotlight and today is, in effect, at the forefront of the fight between liberals and conservatives over Russian domestic policy on constitutional rights and freedoms.
Lawyer with the Agora Human Rights Association