Four Russian LGBT activists arrested and detained for peacefully protesting “homosexual propaganda law” counter Government’s submissions

Published: 25 Sep 2019

Four Russian LGBT activists arrested and detained during peaceful protests against the State Duma’s adoption of a “homosexual propaganda law” have responded to the Government’s arguments before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The four applicants – Sergey Ilupin, Sergey Gubanov, Pavel Samburov and Igor Yashin – submitted their reply to the Court in early June 2019. The case is litigated jointly by the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC) and Memorial Human Rights Centre (Moscow).

Activist Igor Yashin was refused authorisation for a protest against the proposed Bill on the day of its first reading in the Duma on 19 December 2012, on the basis that the demonstration would cause damage to passing minors, insult passer-by’s religious and moral beliefs, and may encourage opponents of the demonstration to commit unlawful acts. All four applicants nevertheless participated in a staged demonstration, during which they kissed their partners. The activists were physically attacked by Orthodox Christian counter-demonstrators who shouted homophobic abuse and pelted them with rotten eggs, with no intervention by the police, who were present at the demonstration. They were later arrested and found guilty of minor disorderly acts, but the proceedings were ultimately quashed on the basis of the expiry of the statute of limitations.

Three of the activists took part in a similar peaceful protest at the rescheduled reading of the Bill on 22 January 2013. They were once again physically attacked by religious counter-protesters, some of whom were the same individuals who had committed the previous attack. Two of the activists had their noses broken. Another sustained injuries to his nose and head. Despite their requests, no criminal case was opened into the attack.

The four LGBT activists maintain that their arrest and detention was unlawful, and that they did not receive a fair trial. They also argue that their rights to freedom of expression and assembly were breached by the restrictions on and termination of the protests, their prosecution, and the authorities’ failure to protect them from the homophobic attacks that they were subjected to. The activists additionally maintain that they faced discriminatory treatment in seeking authorisation for the protest, during the protests themselves and in the lack of investigation into the attacks.

In their recent reply, the applicants claim that certain aspects of the Government’s arguments “are not based on the facts of the case.” The Government has also failed to disclose the file of the pre-investigative inquiry into the events of 22 January 2013, which the applicants argue indicate that the authorities “essentially destroyed evidence of its own wrongdoing.”

What is the broader context?

Restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly remain a systemic problem in Russia. Summer 2019 witnessed the biggest sustained protest movement since 2011-2013, as tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest the exclusion of opposition and independent candidates from the Moscow City Duma election ballot. Some of the protests were authorised by officials—others were not. More than 2,000 protesters were detained, and the use of force by police during the protests has been condemned as “disproportionate” and “indiscriminate” by human rights groups and the international community.

LBGT activists have played a particularly active role in the campaign for freedom of assembly in Russia. State authorities have consistently refused them the right to engage in protest action. In that Russia’s refusal to register associations set up to promote and protect the rights of LGBT people violated their rights to freedom of association and was discriminatory on the grounds of sexual orientation. EHRAC, together with Memorial Human Rights Centre, has litigated a series of cases addressing the tightening of restrictions on holding peaceful protests in Russia in recent years.