#FollowFriday: Russia in the wake of the “Homosexual Propaganda” law

Friday, August 9, 2013

By Stefan Rinas

While freedom of expression is technically guaranteed in the Russian constitution, the country has a long history of acting otherwise. In recent months, the increasingly visible and hostile homophobic sentiment in the country has been legally formalized. Article 6.21, passed on June 11, makes engaging in propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations an offense.

What does that mean? In the context of this law, anyone caught providing information on homosexuality to minors is subject to a fine.

While Russia has ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, which also guarantees freedom of expression, Article 6.21 has been invoked as a weapon against expression and access to information. This week’s #FollowFriday highlights individuals standing up against Article 6.21 and daring to speak out in support of LGBT rights in Russia.

Kris van Der Veen

Filmmaker Kris van Der Veen travelled to Russia last month to interview young Russians about their views on gay rights. While at a “Youth for Human Rights” event, van Der Veen gave a speech on the history of LGBT rights in the Netherlands and expressed hope that the Russian experience would be similar. Soon after, he and three fellow Dutch activists became the first foreigners charged under Article 6.21. The group was soon released, although van Der Veen’s hard drive was confiscated. However, the group managed to quickly and safely leave Russia, and he believes with backup copies he will still be able to complete his film.

Follow Kris van Der Veen on Twitter: @ikbenKRIS

Nikolai Alexeyev

One of Russia’s foremost LGBT activists, Nikolai Alexeyev was recently summoned by Russia’s Investigative Committee over remarks he made that were allegedly insulting to deputies of the State Duma (the lower house of the Russian legislature). The Moscow Times quoted him as saying, “They offend millions of people with their initiatives and laws, such as the gay propaganda law. I’m just expressing my public stance.” Mr. Alexeyev is a lawyer and the founder of gayrussia.eu, which has been described as Russia’s “first non-commercial, human rights focused gay news website.”

Follow Nikolai Alexyev on Twitter: @n_alexeyev

Brenda Cossman

Brenda Cossman is a professor of law and the Director of the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto. In a recent article she stated that while Article 6.21 is exceptional as a federal law, it is part of a broader trend, as many Russian regions having enacted homosexual propaganda bans in the past. Professor Cossman also made a statement that serves as a reminder of how a state can chill freedom of expression in ways other than explicit legislation: “In the case of Russia, there’s the official state policy, but then there are also the actions this official state policy seems to sanction. There’s been a tremendous rise in anti-gay violence. It’s not legal, but what are the consequences of it for people engaging in it? Not very much.”

Follow Brenda Cossman on Twitter: @BrendaCossman

#FollowFriday is an opportunity for CJFE to showcase individuals and groups doing important work in the field of free expression. Please note that certain follow recommendations are not wholesale endorsements of all of an individual’s or organization’s positions.