Human Rights Watch criticizes Russia, says it fails to protect LGBT people

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Story highlights

  • A Human Rights Watch report says Russia has failed to prevent homophobic violence
  • It blames a growing number of attacks on a 2013 anti-gay propaganda law
  • Authorities are failing to use hate crime legislation to prosecute offenders, the report says
  • Russia's President has said no one should face discrimination, calls "traditional families" priority
Russian authorities are failing to protect gay people from persecution and are not prosecuting the perpetrators of a growing number of homophobic attacks, Human Rights Watch says in a new report.
Its report calls for a July 2013 anti-gay propaganda law to be repealed, saying many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people interviewed for the report had noticed an increase in persecution since last year.
The 2013 legislation bans "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations around minors." This means the public discussion of gay rights and relationships, anywhere children might hear it, is prohibited. Russian and international rights groups have condemned it as highly discriminatory.
Many of the LGBT interviewees for the report released Monday reported increased stigma, harassment and violence against them since 2013, the rights group says.
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"The law effectively legalized discrimination against LGBT people and cast them as second-class citizens," it says. "Instead of publicly denouncing anti-LGBT violence and rhetoric, Russia's leadership has remained silent. In some cases public officials have engaged in explicit anti-LGBT hate speech."
The report says that 22 of the 78 victims of homophobic and transphobic violence and harassment did not report attacks to police, as they did not think they would be taken seriously. Law enforcement bodies can prosecute such violence under Russia's hate crime laws, Human Rights Watch says, but not one of the cases documented in the report was investigated as a hate crime.
The rights group describes anti-LGBT groups made up of "radical nationalist men" luring gay men and children on fake dates before holding them against their will and humiliating them.
"In other cases, LGBT people described being physically attacked by strangers on the subway, on the street, at nightclubs, and, in one case, at a job interview," its report says.
A transgender woman, referred to in the report as "Risa R," is quoted as saying she was abducted and brutally assaulted in St. Petersburg in 2013.
"They kept calling me a 'faggot' and telling me how much they hated gays. I told them repeatedly that I wasn't gay, that I was a transgender woman, but they did not want to listen," she says.
"One of them said, 'You're nothing but a faggot. We will get your brain straight right now.' Several times they threatened to rape me. Then they took pliers from their car and ripped out two of my toenails. Afterwards, they said, 'Now you will be better off. Now you will be pretty.' "
Human Rights Watch says Risa explained that she had not gone to police because she had "no illusions that the police would investigate."
It quotes an LGBT activist from Pervouralsk, Gleb Latnik, as saying he had reported to police soon after he had been attacked.
"His injuries were visible -- there was significant bruising on his forehead, there were bruises under his eyes, and one eye was swollen shut," the report says.
"The police officer who took his complaint said to him, 'It's all right, you're gay so it's normal that you were attacked. Why would you need to file a complaint against anyone?' "
"Violence experienced by LGBT people in Russia is unmistakably motivated by homophobia, but the authorities deliberately ignore that these are hate crimes and fail to protect victims," Human Rights Watch's Tanya Cooper said.
The report includes responses from the Russian Prosecutor General's Office and Russian Interior Ministry, and the rights group said neither agency collected statistical data about attacks specifically committed against LGBT people.
"People have tried to stick this label on us, even people who use criminal law to persecute people of nontraditional orientation. Some U.S. states make it a crime, and though as far as I know these laws are not actually applied and the Supreme Court has suspended them, but they are nevertheless still on the books. We have no criminal penalties," he said.
Putin said that no one should face discrimination in Russia.
"All people here have political rights, social rights, rights to employment, and no one should face discrimination," he said. "But our strategic choice is for traditional families, healthy families and a healthy nation. One does not exclude the other and does not hinder the other. I think this is a balanced approach and is entirely the right approach."