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Russian Interior Ministry launches probe into Netflix’s ‘LGBTQ’ content

Part of the political pressure to further restrict LGBTQ+ equality stems from anti-LGBTQ+ remarks made by Russian President Vladimir Putin

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Photo by Strekoza.nyc

MOSCOW – Olga Baranets- the “public commissioner for the protection of the family” accused the American streaming giant Netflix of violating the 2013 Russian law regarding what the Russian government deems “gay propaganda.”

In a formal complaint filed with the Russian Interior Ministry, Baranets, a resident of the Russian capital, alleged that Netflix was violating the law’s provisions that prohibit “propaganda on non-traditional sexual relations among Russians under the age of 18” when Netflix broadcast LGBTQ+ themed series with a 16+ label.

A source for the Russian Interior Ministry told the Blade on Sunday that it is investigating the matter. The law requires that there is a 30-day deadline for responding to such inquiries, Baranets sent her complaint to the Ministry of Internal Affairs on November 10.

A person familiar with the Russian government probe and Baranets’ complaint but not authorized to speak to the media at Netflix’s European headquarters in Amsterdam said that it was doubtful the company violated the tenets of the so-called “gay propaganda” law. The source added that company had found no series and films about the lives of LGBTQs with a 16+ label when it checked earlier this month that would have been available in the Russian Federation.

Netflix’s “colorful collection of films and TV series tells about the lives of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people,” Baranets told Vedomosti, a Russian-language business daily newspaper, which first reported the story.

Vedomosti noted that should Netflix be found guilty of violating the law it could face a fine of up to $1 million rubles, ($11,844.48 Euros)-($13,400 USD) or a temporary suspension of its service for 90 days.

The Moscow Times reported that earlier this month, a Moscow court fined Russia’s Muz-TV music video channel 1 million rubles ($14,000) after its awards show featured gender-flipping stars and what viewers said resembled a same-sex wedding.

The Russian internet watchdog agency Roskomnadzor, the state media and communications regulator, has stepped up its efforts to implement sweeping bans of so-called “perverted” television shows and movies on all streaming platforms in addition to the complaints about Netflix.

Officials are also working with Vitaly Milonov, deputy chairman of the Committee on Family Affairs, Women, and Children, in the Russian State Duma, (Parliament) to sponsor legislation that would make changes to three laws that regulate media, regulate the protection of children from harmful content and banning displays of “gay propaganda” toward Russians under the age of 18.

Interviewed by RIA Novosti, the state-controlled news agency last week, Milanov told the news outlet that “Russian citizens don’t want such content to be broadcast widely.” He then added that “the legal solution to this situation is just around the corner. Whoever wants can have special access to such videos as well as with pornography.”

The English language Moscow Times reported that Russian film distributors in recent years have edited LGBTQ sex scenes and characters from movies before they were shown in theaters. Roskomnadzor’s proposed rules would for the first time affect online streaming and could lead to movies like “50 Shades of Grey” and shows like “Billions” being blocked by Russian internet providers.

Milanov has long been a vocal fierce opponent of the LGBTQ+ community. Legislation authored by him while as an elected official in St. Petersburg was later the boiler-plate model for the national 2013 ” gay propaganda ” law. This past August he stated that LGBTQ+ people are the “lowest stage of development of the animal world” and should be “sterilized” as stray cats are.

Part of the political pressure to further restrict LGBTQ+ equality stems from anti-LGBTQ+ remarks made by Russian President Vladimir Putin in a speech he made in October in Sochi.

The Russian president  accused “monstrous” Western countries of forcing “transgenderism” onto children.

We’re surprised to see things happening in countries that see themselves as flagships of progress… The struggle for equality and against discrimination turns into aggressive dogmatism verging on absurdity.”

People who dare to say that men and women still exist as a biological fact are almost ostracized… Not to mention the simply monstrous fact that children today are taught from a young age that a boy can easily become a girl and vice versa.

Let’s call a spade a spade: This simply verges on crimes against humanity under the banner of progress.”

Roskomnadzor head Andrei Lipov reportedly cited Putin’s Sochi speech as justification for the proposed streaming bans.

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Brittney Griner trial begins

WNBA star faces up to 10 years in prison

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(Screenshot courtesy of Russian television)

MOSCOW — The trial of detained WNBA star Brittney Griner began on Friday in Moscow.

Russian media reports indicate authorities initially did not allow journalists into the court room, but two reporters were eventually able to enter. The Washington Post reported U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood and other American diplomats were present.

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner, — after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department later determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on May 14 spoke with Cherelle Griner. White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan this week said he has also spoken with her.

Officials with the State Department’s Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs on June 13 met with Brittney Griner’s teammates to discuss her detention and efforts to secure her release.

Brittney Griner on June 18 was unable to speak with her wife on their fourth anniversary because the phone at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow that she called went unanswered. A State Department spokesperson later admitted a “logistical error” prevented Brittney Griner from speaking with Cherelle Griner.

Brittney Griner faces up to 10 years in prison if she is convicted.

The Council for Global Equality and the Human Rights Campaign are among the dozens of advocacy groups who signed a letter to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris last week that urged them to do more to secure Brittney Griner’s release. The U.S. House of Representatives on June 24 approved a resolution that called upon Russia to immediately release her.

“Brittney Griner is wrongfully detained, unjustly detained and we have made that clear as an official determination of the U.S. government,” Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday. “Second, the Russian government should release her and allow her to be returned and reunited with her family and come home safe and sound.”

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Brittney Griner trial scheduled to begin July 1

WNBA star detained in Moscow airport in February

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(Screenshot from Russian television)

MOSCOW — A Russian court on Monday said detained WNBA star Brittney Griner’s trial will begin on July 1.

The Associated Press reported the Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner, will remain in custody through the duration of her trial. 

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Brittney Griner after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department has determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on May 14 spoke with Cherelle Griner. 

Officials with the State Department’s Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs on June 13 met with Brittney Griner’s teammates to discuss her detention and efforts to secure her release.

Brittney Griner on June 18 was unable to speak with her wife on their fourth anniversary because the phone at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow that she called went unanswered. A State Department spokesperson later admitted a “logistical error” prevented Brittney Griner from speaking with Cherelle Griner.

Brittney Griner faces up to 10 years in prison if she is convicted.

The Human Rights Campaign and the Council for Global Equality are among the dozens of advocacy groups who signed a letter to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris last week that urged them to do more to secure Brittney Griner’s release. 

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Criminal case against Russian femactivist Yulia Tsvetkova drags on

The criminal proceedings against Tsvetkova, who faces up to six years in prison, are closed to the press and public

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Undated picture of Yulia Tsvetkova & her self-drawing taken from VKontakte posts (Courtesy of Amnesty International)

KOMSOMOLSK-ON-AMUR, Khabarovsk Krai, Russia – Facing a potential sentence of six years in a Russian penal facility and just recently categorised as a  “foreign media agent” by the Russian government, 29-year-old feminist and artist Yulia Tsvetkova remains undaunted.

Authorities in this medium-sized city in the Russian Far East have been actively investigating and targeting Tsvetkova since 2017 after she posted nude drawings in a social media group of herself and others along with artwork supporting Russian LGBTQ+ people on VKontakte (VK.com) the giant Russian social networking platform.

She is charged with “production and dissemination of pornographic materials” (Article 242 (3b) of the Russian Criminal Code) for her body-positive drawings of vaginas on VK.com.

In addition Russian authorities have also been fined Tsvetkova 50,000 rubles for being the administrator of an LGBTQ+ Facebook page, and 75,000 rubles for a drawing depicting two same-sex couples with children. This month, the Russian Ministry of Justice added her to the register of foreign media agents, in part for her work supporting LGBTQ people.

This translates as: “Family is where the love is- support LGBTQ families!”

In an interview with journalist Nina Nazarova from the BBC Russian Service, so far, Tsvetkova said she has not received any official notification from the Russian Ministry of Justice regarding her inclusion in the register of foreign media agents.

“I don’t plan to take active steps myself to get registered, to make an insane and useless legal entity,” Tsvetkova told the BBC. “A lot depends on whether I end up in prison in the next month.

Her mother who she lives with, Anna Khodyreva, who is her unrelenting advocate, posted on her Facebook page about the designation.

“I am the mother of a foreign agent, and am very proud of this,” she wrote, using the Russian shorthand inoagent, which has entered the vernacular.

Tsvetkova was first investigated in 2017, but according to the BBC everything has changed since November 2019, when Tsvetkova became a defendant in five trials and, in fact, was locked up in Komsomolsk-on-Amur.

She was arbitrarily first detained on 20 November 2019 and remained under house arrest until 16 March 2020. There were delays in the trial proceedings that were marked by a continuing investigation by the Federal Security Service at the behest of Boris Viktorovich Kononenko,
the Chief Prosecutor of Komsomolsk-on-Amur.

A video released on YouTube on 15 Jun 2020 by author, activist and artist-writer Nicole Garneau details an overview of the case against Tsvetkova:

In August 2020, the Kulturfabrik Moabit in Berlin hosted an exhibition in solidarity with Yulia Tsvetkova. The exhibition was visited by about 300 people.

Courtesy of Kulturfabrik Moabit in Berlin, Germany

Independent political-journalist Matt Baume, writing for Them magazine reported last April this isn’t the first time that Tsvetkova has faced scrutiny under Russia’s discriminatory laws, however. In 2019, she directed a play criticizing gender stereotypes entitled Blue and Pink at Color of Saffron festival, an art fair for children in the eastern Russian city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, and authorities reportedly forced the event to close in its entirety over concerns that organizers were “attempting to illegally hold an LGBT event,” according to The Art Newspaper.

Although the play was reportedly held for a small crowd in defiance of Russian authorities, Tsvetkova has been fined under the “propaganda” ban twice. She was forced $780 in 2019 for running an online support group for LGBTQ+ people and $658 last summer for a drawing that depicted loving same-sex families.

Speaking with the BBC Tsvetkova noted that the basis for the criminal charges stemmed from the public posts in the “Vkontakte” group “Vagina Monologues”, which was dedicated to feminist art and body positivity: it laid out artistic images of a naked female body.

The pictures of Tsvetkova herself, in particular, depicted women with wrinkles, stretch marks and body hair. Each of the drawings was signed with the phrase “Living women have …” and ended with the words “- and that’s fine!”

Tsvetkova’s posts from VK.com

Russian independent media outlet Novaya Gazeta reported that Dmitry Oblasov, the FSB regional head spurred on at the request of the Chief Prosecutor of Komsomolsk-on-Amur. wrote a letter to Victoria Tregubenko, Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Khabarovsk Territory, asking the commissioner to study the content of Tsvetkova’s social networks for criminal violations.

The intent was to see that if in addition to the alleged penal code violations for production of pornography, provisions of the federal anti-LGBTQ ‘propaganda’ law had also been violated because of her advocacy for Russian LGBTQ+ people.

The criminal case by the Central District Court of Komsomolsk-on-Amur began in earnest in the spring of 2021. While criminal case endlessly endured delays and drags on, a civil case against a Russian right-wing extremist media outlet brought by Tsvetkova and her mother over use of video of the initial FSB raid on her house in 2019 that was leaked by FSB officers was lost and the women found themselves being forced to pay 180,000 rubles to that media outlet – allegedly for “defamation.”

The criminal proceedings against Tsvetkova, who faces up to six years in prison, are closed to the press and public.

The trial against Tsvetkova is coming to an end. On 14 June, the prosecution requested a jail term of three and a half years for “production and dissemination of pornography” for her VK.com posts.

The final hearing is expected to take place on 12 July according to Amnesty International. Tsvetkova will make her final statement and the sentence will be handed down shortly after.

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