The administration of the site gay.ru appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) with a complaint about the blocking in Russia. This was reported to Meduza in the human rights group Agora.
The resource, which has been operating since 1997, was added to the register of banned sites in May 2018 by a decision of the Altai District Court of Khakassia. The court found that gay.ru contained “information promoting non-traditional sexual relations,” including among minors.
The Supreme Court of Khakassia upheld the decision of the district court.
As stated in the complaint to the ECHR (available to Medusa), gay.ru has a note of 18+, as required by Russian law.
Moreover, as the applicant points out, there is no “effective way to distinguish the audience of an Internet resource by age without a complete identification of the user’s identity, which would be an excessive interference with the right to respect for private and family life.”
Thus, the site administration believes that the norm on the basis of which gay.ru was blocked in Russia is “excessively uncertain and unpredictable” in its application.
“This legislation is, in fact, discriminatory <…> legal norms go beyond what is necessary to protect minors from indecent behavior,” the complaint addressed to the ECHR said.
A jury in Moscow has acquitted a suspect charged with murdering a gay man at the Kursky train station. According to the website Mediazona, prosecutors say Anton Berezhnoi used a knife to attack two men returning home from a gay nightclub. One of the victims received light injuries while the other died at the scene.
During the trial, Berezhnoi partly confessed to the crime but said he didn’t plan to kill anyone, claiming that the victim impaled himself on the knife. The jury acquitted him of murder charges but convicted him of felony battery.
Members of the city’s LGBTQ community have said they believe the attack was directly related to the victims’ sexual orientation. “There were shouts of ‘Faggot bastards!’ and there was aggression. It’s highly likely that it was tied to [our] orientation. We were dressed casually. It’s possible that he was following us. We were walking from a nightclub,” the surviving victim told the television station Dozhd.
After SERB nationalist activists interrupted a play about being gay in Russia, police arrested the play’s director. We asked her what happened.
On the evening of August 28, 12 activists from the SERB movement forced their way into Moscow’s Teatr.doc documentary theater and interrupted a play called Coming Out of the Closet. SERB is a radical nationalist group whose members have a history of similar attacks: In addition to targeting opposition figures, SERB has stormed or damaged multiple art exhibitions. When the group disrupted Coming Out of the Closet, multiple theater employees and audience members called the police. Officers responded by arresting the play’s director, Anastasia Patlai, as well as two audience members. One viewer was cited for disorderly conduct, and the other turned out to be under 18 years old even though he had shown theater employees a 19-year-old’s passport upon entry. We spoke with Patlai about the incident and about the suspiciously close relationship between SERB and the police.
Coming Out of the Closet has been in Teatr.doc’s repertoire for nearly three years, but before every staging, the theater’s employees still check every audience member’s passport upon entry to make sure nobody under 18 watches the show. Coming Out of the Closet is a documentary play like any other in that it is based strictly on real events: According to director Anastasia Patlai, it is based on more than 30 detailed interviews. However, a basis in fact doesn’t prevent some from seeing the performance as “gay propaganda” (the show follows Russian gay men between ages 30 and 40 as they come out to their mothers for the first time).
Even before the August 28, Patlai told Meduza, homophobic activists had targeted showings of Coming Out of the Closet at least twice. On one occasion, they called police officers before a Moscow performance of the play in July 2018. The officers arrived at Teatr.doc an hour before the show was set to begin, and Patlai explained to them that theater employees enforce a strict age limit to avoid breaking Russia’s “gay propaganda” law. When Patlai pointed the officers to groups on Russian social media sites where Internet users have posted threats against the theater, the police decided to stay for the duration of the play in case of any violence or disruption.
The second incident was much more recent, Patlai said: On Sunday, August 25, a group of known homophobic activists based in St. Petersburg targeted a showing of Coming Out of the Closet there. Patlai told Meduza that she was acting onstage as an understudy that day when she saw a man stand up in the audience and approach the stage, which is separated from viewers only by a row of columns. The man was not in uniform, she recalled, but he had a gun in his belt. Following the show, police officers arrived on the scene and began checking audience members’ passports. Evidently, they had received a call from somebody who said the play was “defiling children.” Patlai said she believed the August 28 incident was a “continuation” of what happened that night.
She and her staff began suspecting that something was wrong when one young man who came to watch the play appeared to be very nervous and took a long time to find his ticket. The man gave theater employees a copy of a passport that said he was born in 2000, but they took a picture of him and the passport nonetheless, suspecting that something might be amiss.
Patlai went on to tell Meduza that after the play began, a different man approached her in her office and expressed anger at the contents of the performance. He was followed shortly afterward by the same young man who had claimed to be 19. Both men then returned alongside 10 more adults carrying cameras and lights on selfie sticks.
When Patlai realized that it would be impossible to stop the group from entering the theater, she stepped onstage to explain the situation to the audience and ask them to stay until it was resolved. Meanwhile, the group of intruders began shouting homophobic slurs at the play’s viewers. Both the intruders and their victims began making calls to the police, and Patlai called a prominent human rights journalist to ask for help finding an attorney. When Patlai looked outside the theater to see whether the police were on their way, she saw a man waving a black-and-yellow striped flag and holding a poster with more homophobic slurs. She also noticed that one of the men in the theater was wearing a T-shirt that said “SERB.”
When police officers did arrive, the situation only got worse. “The police acted like they’d known these people [the SERB activists] for a long time, like they didn’t care at all about the disorderly conduct in the theater or the disruption of the show,” Patlai told Meduza. “The police didn’t check even one of these people’s papers. They acted as though they and SERB were on the same team. They knew ahead of time that there were minors in the room, and all they wanted to do was deal with that fact.”
According to Patlai, the group of homophobic protesters also made an effort to enable police to target individual audience members: “When the police arrived, the provocateurs started a fight with one of the people in the audience. One of the women [among the SERB activists] shouted, “He’s hitting a woman!” while another provocateur pushed the audience member onto the ground […] The police immediately put handcuffs on him and took him out to their car without stopping to realize the whole thing was a provocation,” the director explained.
Patlai was taken to a police station alongside that audience member and the young man who said he was 19: Police determined that he was in fact a minor. Even while Patlai was in custody, police did nothing to stop the SERB activists from targeting her. She told Meduza, “While I was testifying, the door was open, and they [the SERB activists] commented on everything I said: ‘Sodom, drown them, shoot them.’” The police did not interfere, she said.
Only Anton Tkachuk, the audience member who was pushed to the ground, was ultimately cited for disorderly conduct. He spent the night in the police station, and Patlai said Teatr.doc would likely assist him if he is forced to pay a fine. The young man who was arrested along with them spoke to police alongside his father for an extended period of time, but the children’s inspector who questioned them did not tell Patlai anything about what actions investigators might take against the young man or Teatr.doc.
Despite the disruption and Patlai’s arrest, Teatr.doc ultimately completed their performance with about 80 percent of the audience still in attendance.
Given that Coming Out of the Closet is not a new play for the theater, Patlai speculated that the recent homophobic attacks against it must be related to some external political cause. The director said she felt hatred and hate-based attacks are generally on the rise in Russia but added that the upcoming September 8 elections in Moscow might also have played a role in the timing of the two most recent interruptions.
“Homophobia is a lasting resource in [Russian] politics. I’m not involved in politics,” Patlai said. “I put on shows about love so that people can start understanding each other and finding something in common with one another.” She argued that the logic behind the “gay propaganda” law is misguided: “It can’t be that every instance of the word ‘gay’ is propaganda. That’s nonsense. And the fact that we calmly relay stories about real people doesn’t qualify as propagandizing homosexuality.”
The singer hit out at the “hypocrisy” the Russian president showed.
Earlier this week, in an interview with the Financial Times, Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed that Russia has “no problems” with the LGBTQ community.
“God forbid, let them live as they wish,” said Putin. “Some things do appear excessive to us… They claim now that children can play five or six gender roles.”
He added: “Let everyone be happy, we have no problem with that. But this must not be allowed to overshadow the culture, traditions and traditional family values of millions of people making up the core population.
“I am not trying to insult anyone, because we have been condemned for our alleged homophobia as it is. But we have no problems with LGBT persons.”
Given how the LGBTQ community is treated in Russia, with an intersex woman being evicted from her home following police harassment and a BTS concert being cancelled for being ‘gay’ in this year alone, many took issue with what the Russian president said.
Those included singer, Sir Elton John, who in a letter to Putin, wrote: “I was deeply upset when I read your recent interview in the Financial Times. I strongly disagree with your view that pursuing policies that embrace multicultural and sexual diversity are obsolete in our societies.
“I find duplicity in your comment that you want LGBT people to ‘be happy’ and that ‘we have no problem in that’.”
Making reference to the cutting of gay sex scenes and a picture of Elton John with his husband in the star’s biopic, he added: “Yet Russian distributors chose to heavily censor my film Rocketman by removing all references to my finding true happiness through my 25 year relationship with David and the raising of my two beautiful sons. This feels like hypocrisy to me.
“I am proud to live in a part of the world where our governments have evolved to recognise the universal human right to love whoever we want. And I’m truly grateful for the advancement in government policies that have allowed and legally supported my marriage to David. This has brought us both tremendous comfort and happiness.”
In a decision to censor Rocketman, Olga Lyubimova, the head of the Culture Ministry’s cinema department, told Tass that no specific restrictions were put on the film, but films had to abide by Russia’s laws on “paedophilia, ethnic and religious hatred and pornography.”
Speaking to CNN, Putin rejected Elton’s claims, saying: “Speaking of Elton John, I respect him very much … but I think he is mistaken. I didn’t overstate anything.
“We have a law that everybody is angry at us because of the law that doesn’t allow propaganda of homosexuals among underage population. Let’s let the kids grow and then let them decide what they want to do.”
A homosexual from Chechnya, who left Russia after his arrest, told the “Caucasian Knot” how people with non-traditional sexual orientation live in the republic and how the fate of his acquaintances in the LGBT community has developed after the start of mass raids on gays. According to the man, he managed to avoid torture, but the security forces cruelly tortured his close friend, and three familiar men were killed.
“THEY HAVE BEEN BURNING THROUGH THE CAMERA, SHANGED”
“Caucasian Knot” (CK): Magomed, are you a native of Chechnya? When did you realize your sexual orientation?
Magomed: I was born in Chechnya. My relatives remained there – mother, father, sisters. I realized my orientation after the first homosexual experience, at the age of 18.
CK: Before the persecution began, did any of your relatives and friends know about your orientation?
M .: No. They knew only those with whom I met, as they say, “friends on the topic.” There were no conflicts in the family about this.
CK: How did you communicate with people “off-topic”? Was there no fear that a wide range of people would know about your homosexual relationships?
M .: Of course, scary. Homosexuals are afraid to live not only in Chechnya, but also in general in Russia. Only in Chechnya, unlike in other regions where they can be beaten, crippled, taken away, a homosexual is threatened with death. They will kill, if not their own, so strangers, and no one will declare a blood feud, because they killed the “fagot”, “made good” the family.
I did not get acquainted with “outsiders” people. I knew what this is fraught with from the experience of other young guys who came across homophobes. At first, young people met at Mail.ru, then various mobile applications appeared with chat rooms. After dating, they made an appointment, and there they caught the guys. They were beaten, filmed, blackmailed. The killings began just recently.
CK: Was it difficult for you to make relationships and hide them from prying eyes?
M .: Very difficult. Imagine if the family of straight people had to hide their relationships and children, not to appear in society. We, gays, have the same relationship, with the exception of children. We had to hide from relatives, from colleagues, and from friends, and from fellow students. It is difficult and painful: for example, it was necessary to invent why a stranger was sitting at our family party.
CK: When information about your orientation has ceased to be a mystery to others?
M .: After the security forces caught me.
CK: Before the arrest, did you hear anything about the facts of the persecution? About prisons for homosexuals in Chechnya?
M .: From the very beginning of the repressions against homosexuals, our entire company knew about them. Homosexuals, especially in Chechnya, are a fairly solid and strong community. We can only be with ourselves like we are, therefore the links [between LGBT people] are very stable.
When the first information [about the persecution] appeared, I immediately sent it to my [friends] to whom I could. Some people, as is usually the case, were skeptical of the messages – they say that I hide well, nothing will happen to me. And then the torture began.
CK: Are there people among those close to the Chechen leadership who successfully hide their homosexuality?
M: Yes. I know them. They work quite normally.
CK: Families who have independently dealt with gay relatives try to hide this fact from society and explain the disappearance of a person by leaving or more often they say openly that he is killed?
M: No one openly raises this topic. And no one will talk about this with the family. The death of a man has already cleared the race, say the Chechens. And if you remind about this, then you will have to answer for your words.
CK: Does your family know about your sexual orientation?
M .: The male part is not. If they did, I wouldn’t be here.
“I was handed over under torture”
CK: How exactly did your persecution begin? Was this related to a specific incident — for example, did a security official select a mobile phone with photos?
M .: I was handed over under torture. In the spring of 2017 one of the homosexuals in inadequate condition was detained by the police. It is worth noting that in Chechnya, it is absolutely impossible to drink to [local residents]. A personal correspondence with a lover and photos with him, as well as an extensive base of phones, were discovered on the young man’s phone. My contact was not there, since I only gave my address and telephone number to a very narrow circle of people, but they came to me through another detainee, who was seized at that very base. I was stopped at one of the posts of Grozny when checking documents, taken to the police department. After a brief stint, they let go, but set a condition – I must disappear from Chechnya, and preferably from Russia.
For reasons of security, the interlocutor did not voice the circumstances of his release, therefore the “Caucasian Knot” did not ask any further details.
CK: Did you avoid torture?
M: Yes, this did not happen to me, but they tortured my close friend. For two weeks he was kept in the basement, beaten, tortured with electric current, and was not given any food or water. He survived only due to the fact that he was allowed to pray – during the ablutions it was possible to sip water.
CK: Was he officially charged with something?
M .: He was tortured for being homosexual, and that was the accusation. No criminal or administrative case was opened against him, just tortured.
There were cases when cases were brought against several homosexuals. This was done for blackmail: they say, we will put you, kill you as a terrorist. But, as far as I know, not a single case reached the court. Mostly [these people] had tolerant families, parents did not pay attention to their son’s sexual orientation. When the security forces understood that it was useless to tell the family, they frightened them with criminal prosecution, but [as a result of these people] were killed.
CK: Your friend was alone in that basement?
M .: Using his phone, the security officers came out for three more people, one of whom, by the way, was not gay. What happened to them, I do not know. After my friend left, we quickly left.
CK: You said that some detainees were killed. Who are these people?
M: I know about three homosexuals killed: two young people and one older person. The latter was tortured and beaten, as a result of which he died, his body was simply given to relatives. The other guy is a member of a wealthy family in Chechnya who is in (power). He was beaten half to death. Having found out who he was, the security forces brought him to his relatives and gave him away, said: “Understand yourself.” The family killed him himself. The third homosexual was beaten, taken out to his home, where he died – the ambulance was unable to help.
CK: It is known that many detainees had to pay the security forces for silence and release, some spoke of systematic extortion. Do you know what amounts gays were forced to pay?
M: Different. In May 2017, it was about 200-300 thousand rubles, sometimes reaching 500 thousand. It depended on the level of human well-being – what position he held, where he worked. You can’t take off your naked pants. If it came to the family, then they already looked at her condition.
CK: Why did they let you go?
M .: I will not answer this question.
CK: Have they applied to government agencies? For example, to the prosecutor?
M .: Are you crazy? [laughs]
CK: Were there difficulties in terms of moving? Did they take any things? Or abandoned everything?
M .: We only had a hand luggage – in a sports bag, where it was most necessary: pants, t-shirt, toothbrush. We didn’t go on a tour, we fled the country.
“I WANT TO GO BACK TO MY HOUSE”
CK: Now you are in one of the European countries. Did you manage to get political asylum?
M .: I was lucky: two weeks after my arrival, I was received by the Consul General of the country where I was, and immediately [documents for political asylum] were ready.
CK: What’s up with your friend?
M .: We flew to different countries, but neighboring ones. Is he Ok.
CK: Are you afraid that someone will chase you abroad?
M: Of course. Persecution is no longer carried out by Chechen security officials, but by members of the Chechen diasporas. If they find out that you are gay, then they can beat and kill. The most famous case of persecution is the story of Movsar Eskerkhanov.
CK: If the situation changes for the better, would you like to return to Russia and specifically to Chechnya?
M: Of course, I want to return to my house. I’m here alone, I have no one. It is very difficult to break away from family, friends, to leave for a lifetime. One thought that I will not see my relatives is already killing. I keep in touch only with the female part of the family. Women cover me – they say that I work in Europe.
CK: The reaction of the authorities and the security bloc in Chechnya to homosexuals is known. You say that society is extremely negative, but women are tolerant of your sexual orientation …
M .: [Women] humbled. They are more merciful than men, and for them I, first of all, are son and brother, and not gay. They would not want to lose a relative. Sexual orientation is not a reason to kill.
CK: How do you explain the fact that in Chechnya, some of the stars of show business who have the reputation of homosexuals are welcome?
M: They are not Chechens. First, they are brought in as a media person. Secondly, in this way they are denying that they are pursuing and killing gays.
CK: What actions would you recommend homosexuals to avoid in Chechnya?
M .: The advice is the same: to leave Chechnya.
CK: How to deal with persecution by relatives and members of the diaspora?
M .: Here, in Europe, you can “not shine”, do not give everyone your name. We go where secular society.