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Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A(nother) day in the life of homophobic Russia

Arrest of Dan Choi at Moscow Pride 2011. Pic GayRussia.eu
By Paul Canning

In the latest news from homophobic Russia: Moscow police have stopped investigating the bashing of a lesbian journalist; Moscow authorities refuse to register LGBT NGOs; and another Russian region wants to outlaw LGBT and pro-gay organising.

But, in good news, 'liberal' St Petersberg held a successful LGBT festival.

Elena Kostyuchenko is a well-known Russian journalist who recently came out as lesbian in her newspaper, Novaya Gazeta.

At the May Moscow Pride march she was beaten up in full view of the world's media. But Moscow police just announced that they were closing the case due to 'lack of evidence'. The man who bashed her, Roman Lisunova, now has the right to bring a civil action for compensation for moral damages for unlawful prosecution - this was explained to him by the police investigator.

Kostyuchenko told Moscow Times:
"It appears that in Moscow anyone can beat a person in broad daylight with witnesses and in front of the cameras and get away with it."
Also this week, the Russian Ministry of Justice has again refused to register four gay organizations in Moscow, which means that the capital has still not registered a single open-social organisation of sexual minorities.
Russian activists have pledged to sue the refusal to register their groups before the European Court of Human Rights.

Russian gay leader and organiser of Moscow Pride, Nikolai Alekseev, pointed out that gay groups have been registered in St. Petersburg.
"The impression is that Moscow and St. Petersburg are cities located in different countries," he said. "There is no unity of legal space in Russia, none."
In 2010 a request to register the 'Movement for Marriage Equality' was denied on 'public morality' grounds. A complaint against Russia about that is with the European Court of Human Rights, as is one from the LGBT organization Raduzhny Dom (Rainbow House) from the city of Tyumen, 2000k east of Moscow.

In the court, the Russian state is arguing that:
“The activities of this organization relate to propaganda for un-traditional sexual orientations that could result in an undermining of the safety of Russian society and government. The spiritual values of society are being undermined, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation are being undermined in terms of preserving her population.  Moreover, the activities of this organization could arouse social and religious hatred and hostility, which also signifies the extreme nature of their activities. Propaganda for untraditional sexual orientations is encroaching on the institutions of marriage and family as protected under the law”.
In the far North region Arkhangelskaya Oblast (capital Arkhangelsk), Vladimir Putin's party look likely to pass a law outlawing both LGBT groups and advocacy for LGBT human rights.

It is an amendment to a regional law 'On some measures to protect the morals and health of children in the Arkhangelsk region' to prohibit so-called "propaganda of homosexuality" to juveniles. These amendments are intended to "protect children from homosexuality and other corrupting influences," according to a 15 June press release on the official website of the Assembly of Deputies.

Update: The region has passed the law.

20 September local activists held a event 'The Defense of Morality or a Violation of Human Rights?' with an invited audience of journalists.

The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, issued a message of support to the event and underlined the necessity that Russia as a member state of the Council of Europe should "safeguard the possibility to receive and impart information on issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity in the press, publications, oral and written statements, art and other media. Any discriminatory provision criminalising the dissemination and diffusion of factual information concerning sexual orientation and gender identity should be abolished.”

In July 2010 when activists attempted to hold openly the first LGBT film festival in the region it met with strong opposition from both the authorities and the religious Orthodox right-wing. Their combined efforts resulted in venues pulling out and forced the festival to be held in semi-closed conditions.

Since 2006 another region of Russia has had a similar ban on "advocacy of sodomy and lesbianism", the Ryazan region 200km south of Moscow.

Last year the Constitutional Court of Russia decided that such a ban on "propaganda" of homosexuality among minors did not contradict the Russian Constitution.

Meanwhile in St Petersberg, the Third International Festival QueerFest 2011 opened September 15 - despite protests and attacks by members of clerical extremist organisations, who threw eggs, exploded firecrackers, and sprayed pepper spray.

200 people attended the opening ceremony, including representatives of Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders of Sweden, Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg and other leading human rights organizations of Russia and abroad; diplomats from the Netherlands, Sweden, Great Britain, France, Norway, artists and members of civil society spoke about the importance of LGBT rights work in Russia.

QueerFest's mission is to give Russian gays and lesbians a sense of Pride and to raise awareness of LGBT rights in society at large. Artists, human rights activists, and public persons voice their support for tolerance and non-violence by participation in the festival.

For ten days St. Petersburg enjoyed photo exhibitions, concerts against homophobia, open public debates and discussions about LGBT rights and traditional values, freedom of expression and censorship.

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