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Online support group for LGBT children faces court hearing in Russia

© 2013 Courtesy of Ivan Simochkin/Deti 404/Wikimedia Commons

This statement was originally published on hrw.org on 3 April 2015.

A court in Saint Petersburg will hear a case against an online group on April 6, 2015, for allegedly violating Russia's anti-LGBT “propaganda law,” Human Rights Watch said today. Russian authorities should drop the charges and stop harassing the LGBT group, Deti 404.

If the court rules against Deti 404, the group's website could eventually be banned in Russia.

Russia's anti-LGBT 'propaganda' law is fundamentally discriminatory and violates freedom of expression,” said Tanya Cooper, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The prosecutor's office should immediately withdraw the lawsuit against Deti 404.”

Elena Klimova, a Deti 404 administrator, told Human Rights Watch that the Saint Petersburg prosecutor's office filed a court petition alleging that the group's publications may contain information about LGBT relationships that could be harmful to Russian children. In January a court found Klimova liable under Russia's “propaganda law” in a separate lawsuit, but two months later an appeals court dismissed the case and ordered a retrial.

Deti 404, or Children 404, is an online support group for LGBT children to discuss violence and harassment they face at school and home and receive help. It is one of the last safe places to which LGBT children in Russia can turn for advice. Deti 404 has almost 50,000 followers on Vkontakte, Russia's largest social networking site.

Maria Kozlovskaya, a lawyer with the Russian LGBT Network, told Human Rights Watch that the Saint Petersburg prosecutor's office filed the lawsuit as a means to have Deti 404's website and its group page on Vkontakte blocked.

The lawsuit is based on a complaint filed by a member of Young Guard, the youth wing of United Russia, Russia's ruling political party. In a response to the complaint, the Prosecutor General's office informed Young Guard in a letter that the Saint Petersburg prosecutor had petitioned a Saint Petersburg court to determine whether Deti 404's publications should be prohibited for public distribution.

If the court rules in favor of the prosecution, the state agency for media oversight (Roskomnadzor) would include the group's website in its registry of prohibited websites and webpages, and the website would be blocked. The letter also says that the prosecutor's office had sent a note to Vkontakte's headquarters asking the site to remove the page for Deti 404, for “violations of the law which protects the informational security of children.”

On January 23, a court in the city of Nizhny Tagil found Klimova guilty of “spreading information containing propaganda about non-traditional sexual relationships.” The prosecutor's office brought the misdemeanor charges based on a complaint filed by Roskomnadzor, which acted upon a separate complaint by Young Guard. In the complaint, Roskomnadzor claimed that what Deti 404 published “could cause children to think that to be gay means to be a person who is brave, strong, confident, persistent, who has a sense of dignity and self-respect.” The court fined Klimova 50,000 rubles (US$880).

Klimova told Human Rights Watch that on March 25 an appeals court dismissed the previous ruling against her because of numerous procedural violations and sent the case for retrial.
In February 2014 a Saint Petersburg court dismissed another suit against Klimova, saying it found no elements of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” in Deti 404's activities.

“Considering the repeated nature of legal proceedings against Deti 404 and Klimova, it is clear that the authorities are using the discriminatory “gay propaganda” law to harass her and force Deti 404 into silence,” Cooper said. “Klimova finds herself, like many other Russian human rights activists, locked in a legal battle with the state rather than devoting all of her energy to helping LGBT children get access to information, justice, and equality.”

Proponents of the anti-LGBT “propaganda” law contend that portraying same-sex relationships as acceptable and of equal value to heterosexual relationships poses a threat to the intellectual, moral and mental well-being of children. Such claims are not simply offensive, but are wholly without foundation and dangerous to LGBT people, Human Rights Watch said. The law violates Russia's obligations under international human rights law and in particular the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which it is a party.

During a periodic review in January 2014, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that the Russian authorities “repeal its laws prohibiting propaganda of homosexuality and ensure that children who belong to LGBTI groups or children of LGBTI families are not subjected to any forms of discrimination by raising the awareness of the public on equality and non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“This deplorable law does not protect children, it robs them of access to important information about their health and identity,” Cooper said. “Deti 404 offers LGBT children a safe space to talk about abuses they experience and to get support, while the Russian state turns its back on them and refuses to hear their voices.”

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