The Russian authorities must abolish their absurd “homosexual propaganda law” and end persecution of human rights activists, said Amnesty International after a female activist was heavily fined for posting links to LGBTI-related stories on social media.
Evdokia Romanova was today found guilty of the administrative offence of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors using the Internet” and fined 50,000 roubles (USD $870) by a court in Samara. The accusations against her related to links she shared on Facebook in 2015 and 2016, including a Guardian story on Ireland’s same sex marriage referendum and a Buzzfeed article about an LGBTI exhibition in St Petersburg.
“The absurd accusations against Evdokia Romanova are a sad illustration of the desperate circumstances currently faced by activists working on LGBTI issues in Russia. Even the simple freedom to share an online story with friends is now limited by legislation that is blatantly discriminatory and homophobic,” said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.
“The homosexual propaganda law is not only being exploited to target individuals like Evdokia Romanova. It is also being used as an instrument to spread fear and uncertainty among LGBTI activists across the country. We reiterate our call on the Russian authorities to repeal this legislation and respect every person’s right to freedom of expression.”
Evdokia Romanova is a member of the local chapter of the LGBTI movement Avers and an active member of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YCSRR). On 26 July she was called into her local police station on the pretext of having to act as a witness in a case she had never heard of. To her surprise, she was instead informed that she was facing legal proceedings for “homosexual propaganda” but denied disclosure of any details of the case against her.
For weeks, Evdokia Romanova and her lawyer were refused any details about the exact grounds on which the proceedings against her had been instigated. They were finally granted access to her casefile on 5 September, only days before the trial.
As part of the legal proceedings against Evdokia Romanova, the Police Centre for the Prevention of Extremism ordered an “expert” examination of a link to the YCSRR’s website she had shared which called for youth activists to campaign for LGBTI rights. The “experts” concluded that it contained “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”, that it was aimed at “forming non-traditional sexual orientation”, and that it was responsible for “creating appealing image of non-traditional sexual orientation.”
Evdokia Romanova told Amnesty International: “I have lost the feeling of security in this country. I have been receiving threats from people I don’t know. This law has caused the rise of hate crimes towards LGBT people all over the country. It prevents LGBT organizations from providing legal and psychological support to young LGBT people, who remain marginalized and unprotected.”
The law prohibiting “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors” – also known as the ‘homosexual propaganda law’ – was passed in Russia in June 2013. It introduced Article 6.21 into the Russian Code of Administrative Offences allowing for hefty fines for those who, according to the authorities, promote “non-traditional sexual relations”.
Amnesty International believes that the law violates freedom of expression and has been campaigning for its abolition. In June 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that law was discriminatory.