anti_gay_violence_grows_in_russia_ahead_of_sochi_games_human_rightsIn the run up to the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, Human Rights Watch has reported a “deteriorating situation of widespread and concerted abuse against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and activists” in Russia.

LGBT victims of violence and groups have told Human Rights Watch that stigma, harassment, and violence in their everyday lives have intensified in the last year.

Victims in cities including Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Novosibirsk reported that they were attacked in public places, abducted, beaten, harassed, threatened, and psychologically abused.

They told Human Rights Watch that they were afraid to go to the police to report violence, fearing further harassment and believing the police would not bother to pursue their attackers. When victims did lodge complaints with the police, few investigations followed.

The organisation admitted that the absence of relevant data makes it impossible to quantify the extent to which such violence and harassment increased during 2013, but it said that all of the victims and LGBT groups it spoke to “experienced an escalation in homophobic attacks starting in late 2012.”

According to a Russian LGBT Network anonymous survey, more than 50 percent of the 2,007 respondents said that in 2013 they had experienced psychological abuse, and 15 percent had experienced physical violence. Only 6 percent of victims said that they contacted police.

At least three murders allegedly motivated by homophobia were reported in May 2013, a month before the adoption and signing of the federal anti-gay “propaganda” law, which has been condemned around the world.

“The Russian authorities have the power to protect the rights of LGBT people, but instead they are ignoring their responsibility to do so,” said Tanya Cooper, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “By turning a blind eye to hateful homophobic rhetoric and violence, Russian authorities are sending a dangerous message as the world is about to arrive on its doorstep for the Olympics that there is nothing wrong with attacks on gay people.”

The organisation also accused the Russian media, particularly state-sponsored and state-controlled media outlets, of conducting a vicious homophobic campaign. Government officials, journalists, and celebrities have publicly called LGBT people “perverts,” “sodomites,” and “abnormal,” and have conflated homosexuality with pedophilia. The deputy director of a government television and radio holding and also one of the leading talk show hosts proposed to “burn or bury” the hearts of gay organ donors rather than use them for transplants because they are “unfit to continue anyone’s life.”

“The discriminatory impact of the anti-LGBT law and hateful language on state television have created a climate of intolerance against the Russian LGBT community,” Cooper said. “Russian leaders should denounce, not feed, homophobic hysteria, or the Kremlin’s silence will be taken as condoning the violence.”

Starting in late 2012, numerous vigilante groups consisting of radical nationalists began attacking and harassing gay people in dozens of Russian cities. Mostly claiming to be fighting paedophilia, these groups lure men and boys to meet, accuse them of being gay, humiliate and beat them, and post videos of the proceedings on social networks, intentionally exposing their victims to further abuse. The groups have posted hundreds of videos online.

On January 17, 2014, during a meeting in Krasnaya Polyana, one of the Olympic locations, president Putin said that gay people were welcome in Sochi and would be “comfortable” there, but asked them “to leave children in peace.”

“Russian officials embolden homophobes and their violent attacks by persistently equating homosexuality with paedophilia,” Cooper said. “Such a chilling and wrongheaded message about LGBT people from Russia’s head of state is irresponsible and extremely dangerous.”

Public events in support of LGBT rights have long been met with official intolerance and violent counter demonstrations. LGBT activists have increasingly become targets of vicious attacks during such events. Human Rights Watch documented violent attacks on LGBT activists during 2012 and 2013 in several Russian cities, including Voronezh, St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Novosibirsk.

Threats and intimidation against Russian LGBT groups also spread in 2013. Several LGBT organisations and their staff experienced violence, threats, and interference with their work. One attack occurred in November at LaSky, an HIV prevention center serving the LGBT community and men who have sex with men in St. Petersburg. Two people entered the LaSky office during a social event and attacked visitors, shooting one in the eye with a pneumatic gun and beating another with a baseball bat.


A bloodied gay man is forced to rape himself with a bottle by anti-gay thugs (see video below). 

“Russian officials have long denied that discrimination against LGBT people exists, including to the International Olympic Committee, yet the hostility and violence clearly have been intensifying,” Cooper said. “As Russia hosts the Olympics in this atmosphere of homophobic hatred, the government needs to take urgent measures to support the rights of LGBT people and protect them.”

Meanwhile, 40 of the world’s leading human rights and LGBT groups have written to corporate sponsors of the Sochi Winter Olympics calling on them to urge Russia to halt the rising tide of discrimination, harassment and threats against LGBT people.

The letter was sent to the 10 top sponsors of the Games: Atos, Coca Cola, Dow Chemical, General Electric, McDonald’s, Omega, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, and Visa. They have been asked to use their leverage to speak out against Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law, which violates the Olympic Charter’s principle of non-discrimination, and to ask the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to undertake systemic reforms to monitor and prevent human rights abuses in future host countries.

The letter was signed by organisations including All Out, Amnesty International, Athlete Ally, Freedom House, Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, PEN and the Russian LGBT Network.

The Sochi Winter Games are set to start on Friday.

Human Rights Watch has compiled a video report showing shocking footage of a number of attacks against Russian LGBT people. Watch it below.

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