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Russian Activist Faces Unfounded Pornography Charges

Government Engages in Lawfare against Civic Activism

Yulia Tsvetkova, talking about her youth theater project “Pink and Blue”. © Yulia Tsvetkova/VK

A Russian feminist and LGBT activist is under house arrest for allegedly distributing pornography. It’s yet another example of Russia using unfounded accusations and vague laws to intimidate certain activists.

Yulia Tsvetkova, 26, is from Russia’s far east region of Khabarovsk. Neither her mother nor lawyer know the factual basis for the criminal accusation, but if prosecuted and convicted, Yulia faces up to six years in prison.

Police have repeatedly questioned Yulia about her work as an artist and youth theater director. In March, they questioned her about a series of body-positive drawings of naked women she posted on social media, alleging they were pornographic. Police also questioned Yulia about a youth theater performance on gender stereotypes. They cited a suspected violation of Russia’s discriminatory “gay propaganda” law, which bans spreading information about LGBT issues to children, even though the play didn’t cover LGBT issues. Yulia subsequently closed the theater out of security concerns.

In October, police again questioned Yulia on pornography allegations regarding a social media group she manages that features artwork depicting vulvas and calls for an end to taboos around vaginal anatomy and menstruation.

After police questioned Yulia again on November 20, they told her she was a criminal suspect, although it was not clear regarding which project. Two days later, police arrested Yulia for violating an order to remain in her city. The following week, police reportedly tried to persuade a child who played in Yulia’s youth theater to request victim status in a criminal case against her.

The next day, police escorted Yulia to court, where she learned that she faces additional administrative charges stemming from two other social media groups she manages – about LGBT and feminist topics, respectively. Authorities claim the groups’ activities violate the “gay propaganda” law, even though their content is marked as 18+. If Yulia is found guilty, she faces a maximum 100,000 ruble fine.

Yulia is not alone in facing repercussions of this sort. Earlier this year, Russian authorities used the “gay propaganda” law to block two major LGBT online groups. And in two other cases, authorities took the more serious step of threatening criminal prosecution against people in relation to LGBT issues.

Yulia’s mother, Anna Khodyreva, told me: “This case is an example of a bright smart girl who didn’t want to live according to the rules of everyone else in this grim city.” Nonconformism, however, isn’t a crime.

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