Maksim Pankratov, 21 y/o, interviewed by children on “Real Talk”

© personal archive / Maksim Pankratov

This week, investigative authorities in Moscow opened a criminal investigation into alleged sexual assault of children in connection with a video in which Russian kids ask a gay man questions about his life.

The video series by Russian YouTube channel “Real Talk,” is a local adaption of the US show “Kids Meet,” where children meet people with different life experiences and ask unscripted questions. The channel has featured children interviewing an older person, a woman with anorexia, a black person, a person of short stature, and others.

On the video featuring a gay “interviewee,” four children, aged 6 to 13, chat with the 21-year-old Maksim who sits in a chair a few feet away from them. In response to their questions, he explains how and when he discovered his sexual orientation, shares his hope to eventually have kids, talks about his family and friends, and about the way people treat him. The interview did not include any discussion of sex or physical intimacy.

In September, State Duma deputy Pyotr Tolstoy reached out to the Interior Ministry and the state telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor. He expressed concern the video violates the Russia’s ban on “gay propaganda” and could cause psychological damage to children. In October, the Interior Ministry launched an administrative case over alleged “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.” Subsequently, Roskomnadzor blocked the video and the owners deleted their YouTube account.

On November 2, Moscow’s investigative agency confirmed a criminal case into “sexual assault of minors” had been opened and the investigators had questioned the video producers and were currently “seeking to establish the victims of the crime and all relevant circumstances.”

In the past, Russian authorities have used the discriminatory “gay propaganda” law to ban peaceful protest and to stifle LGBT-friendly information. The European Court of Human Rights already ruled in 2017 and 2019 that Russia is violating fundamental rights and its human rights obligations by invoking its ban on “gay propaganda.” This year, the authorities stepped up from administrative suits and intimidation to criminal prosecution. In July, a same-sex couple with two kids fled the country after being targeted by authorities. The social workers, who gave their family a positive evaluation, were charged with inadequate performance of duties, a criminal offense punishable by up to three months in prison. Now, investigators are equating a talk show interview by children as “sexual assault of children,” a crime punishable by twelve to twenty years’ imprisonment under Russian law. This madness has to stop.