This is Russia: The True Story of Russia’s Oppression of the LGBT Community
by Taria Polyakova
Russian human rights activist Taria Polyakova describes Russia’s crackdown on the LGBT community and shares her story of being arrested in Moscow on the opening day of the Olympic Games in Sochi.
Shortly before the Sochi Olympic Games began, my friends and I decided to join a celebration that was held on the opening day on Manezhnaya Square in Moscow. We wanted to perform the Russian Anthem while carrying our flags: Russian flags and flags of the LGBT movement. We wanted to celebrate this day like everyone else, as well as to show that we exist.
On February 7, Manezhnaya Square was surrounded by the police and metal fencing. The only entrance available was through the Red Square. My friends and I met at a coffee shop and then proceeded to move in small groups towards that entrance of the square. As soon as we started toward the square, the police immediately began surrounding us. There were twice as many of them as there were of us.
I started to walk faster and then I heard the girls screaming. When I turned around, my friends were already being dragged on the ground and the police were trying to detain them. We started singing. I pulled out the rainbow flag from my pocket and waved it. Shortly after that I was shoved into a police car with everyone else.
We were held at the police station for three to five hours in a cage, some of us beaten, handcuffed, all of us searched with our personal items and phones taken away. We were given no legal documents about our temporary detention as we arrived. When my friend Nix asked an officer about these documents, he was tied up immediately and searched. The officer took his passport from his pocket and dragged him into the cage. My friends Reyda and Lena were taken into a room where someone suggested they should “suck his cock”. The entire time the police were filming us on their mobile phones from outside the cage, like we were some sort of animals in a zoo.
All of us were later charged with 20.2 part 2 of the code of administrative offences for an organization of an unauthorized public assembly. Article 31 of our Constitution guarantees freedom of assembly to every Russian citizen, therefore this legislation about public assembly that was passed on the 8th of December 2010 by President Medvedev is simply unconstitutional and should be abolished. It is not only our right, but our duty as Russian citizens to stand against it. Besides, a group of 10 friends is hardly a public assembly.
The police also stated in our charges that we messed up the words of the anthem, implying that we mocked it in some way. We didn’t. We know the words of our anthem. Too bad they don’t.
One of my friends was later arrested again for an anti-war protest and charged with 19.3 of the code of administrative offences for resisting arrest and was immediately put into the detention center for 10 days. He was eventually released but was sentenced to a fine of 20 thousand rubbles for the 7th of February. The rest of us are still waiting for our trials to be scheduled.
When the Olympics ended, the crackdown on civil society in Russia went from bad to worse. There were mass arrests, with the police detaining four hundred and forty people over the course of a single day. People have been arrested for carrying umbrellas, for wearing signs, and for holding blank pages. In February a schoolgirl was attacked at her school and beaten up by her parents after receiving a warning from child protection services for being gay. My friend was fired after her boss discovered her Facebook page where she announced in her relationship status that she is “in love” with another girl. A former colleague of mine had her book for kids, published in 2006, checked for gay propaganda. The founder of a support group for LGBT youth Lena Klimova was also charged with propaganda, although the charges were later dropped.
The date of our trial was originally set for the 19th of February but has now been delayed, which is not a good sign. Usually the system works very fast. This delay could mean that they are gathering evidence to charge us with something else. I won’t be surprised if they charge me with treason or something. After all, this is Russia.
Taria Polyakova is an independent journalist and a human rights defender currently working with the NGO Zona Prava, which was founded by former Pussy Riot members Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. For the last 2 years she has been working with an NGO called Za Prava Cheloveka, particularly focusing on the penetentiary system in Russia.