Russian human rights activist charged with violating propaganda law

By : Helen Parshall of the Washington Blade, courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association
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A Russian human rights advocate awaits trial under her country’s so-called gay propaganda law for sharing social media posts relating to sexual education and LGBT rights.

Evdokia Romanova, 27, works with the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YCSRR) in the city of Samara, and began working with young people around issues of HIV and comprehensive sexual health education. She will appear in court on Monday and if found guilty will be fined up to 100,000 rubles ($1,750).

“This is a lot of money, especially considering the average salary in my home region. This is basically five average monthly salaries, which is outrageous,” Romanova told the Washington Blade. “The way propaganda is officially defined by the Russian Federation does not relate in any way to the posts I was making.”

Romanova received a call from an unknown number on July 26 asking her to come in to the police department to submit witness testimony against an unknown party.

“When I asked for any details in particular, they said I would be given them only in the police department,” Romanova said.

She was suspicious and consulted with the director of her organization and a lawyer before arriving at the police department. When she arrived, she was presented with charges under Article 6.21, part 2 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offenses which criminalizes “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships among minors using Internet.”

“They lied to me on the phone that I had to be a witness to somebody else,” Romanova said. “I found out that this is the way they always work. They frighten people and they lie to people to get them into the police department.”

The articles Romanova shared to social media related to topics such as the same-sex marriage vote in Ireland and information about an exhibit that depicted issues of the violence faced by LGBT teenagers in St. Petersburg.

“Evdokia Romanova’s case file reveals that the charges most likely relate to her membership of the YCSRR and that her ‘crime’ was the reposting of links to the YCSRR website and media publications,” said an Amnesty International release.

“Nobody should be prosecuted for talking about important things to them,” Romanova added. “Especially when people talk about justice and when they talk about protection of certain groups of the population — nobody should be persecuted for that.”

Romanova believes that the propaganda law makes it easy for people to demonize any kind of information regarding LGBT rights.

“For people who are homophobic, for instance, any kind of sharing of information regarding LGBT rights is propaganda, but this is ridiculous and outrageous,” she said. “Sharing information regarding LGBT rights and LGBT people is not banned. It is not against the law.”

Amnesty International has been mobilizing support for Romanova by encouraging its members to send letters on her behalf to prosecutors and human rights officials within the Russian government.

Even with her court appearance so close, Romanova told the Blade that she was not allowed to see all the case files and accusations against her.

“I didn’t even get a chance to read the files deeply because in the police department, there were two unidentified men always giving comments about my case, laughing sometimes,” Romanova said.

What she did see appeared to be to have been poorly translated files from the English language posts she had made.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Romanova. “Even though the case was made on very poor police investigation and police work, knowing the way the justice system works in Russia, I have all the chances to lose.”

Romanova told the Blade that one of the men grabbed the files roughly from her, saying they did not need to show it.

“This person then asked me questions about an Austrian citizen living in Samara, and this person is my partner. He’s my fiance, and we’re getting married in two weeks,” said Romanova. “He started asking me questions and said perhaps we should do some checking and see if his documents were fine, and if not, he should be kicked out of the country.”

“This was my main fear when I started working on human rights in Russia, that something could happen to my family,” Romanova added.

Romanova said that despite the fears and frustrations from this case, she remains committed to working for human rights in Russia.

“As a human rights activist in Russia you fear a lot,” she said. “Living in this unstable environment, you never know what will be the next law that will be dreadful for your work. It’s extremely scary, but at the same time it is so important and inspires you for further action.”

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