Founder of Russian LGBT website convicted under propaganda law

Russian judge on Friday convicted the founder of a website for LGBT youth of violating the country’s law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors. 

Lyudmila Pedan, a judge in the city of Nizhny Tagil, found Yelena Klimova, founder of the Children 404 Project, of violating the controversial law that President Vladimir Putin signed in June 2013. Pedan fined Klimova 50,000 rubles ($780.65.)

Reports indicate Pedan refused to postpone the trial, even though Klimova’s lawyer could not attend because of what Maria Kozlovskaya of the St. Petersburg-based Russian LGBT Network described to the Washington Blade as “medical reasons.”

Kozlovskaya said the court also rejected a motion to conduct what she described as “forensic examinations of the ‘propagating’ materials.”

“Today the court has violated Article 48 of the Russian Constitution, according to which everyone shall be guaranteed the right to qualified legal assistance,” said Kozlovskaya in a statement after Pedan found Klimova guilty of violating the gay propaganda law. “Despite the fact that the lawyer was absent for medical reasons and Elena was left without any defense in the court, the judge decided not to postpone the hearing.”

Russian LGBT advocates ‘still face persecution’ after Olympics

Children 404 has provided information and other support to thousands of Russian LGBT teenagers since Klimova launched it in March 2013 in response to concerns she had over the gay propaganda law that lawmakers were debating at the time.

Vitaly Milonov, a St. Petersburg lawmaker who sponsored the city’s gay propaganda ban that inspired the federal law, last February urged authorities to file charges against Klimova over Children 404.

The same court that convicted Klimova on Friday last year acquitted her on charges that she violated the gay propaganda law. Milonov subsequently announced that he planned to appeal the verdict.

Klimova’s conviction comes against the backdrop of lingering outrage over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record.

LGBT rights advocates late last month sharply criticized Russian officials over reports that suggested they had banned transgender people from obtaining a driver’s license and operating a vehicle.

Police in Moscow and St. Petersburg last February detained several LGBT rights advocates who tried to stage protests ahead of the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics that took place in Sochi. Authorities during the games arrested trans former Italian Parliamentarian Vladimir Luxuria twice after she protested the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record.

Russian police last October detained eight people who staged a National Coming Out Day protest outside a Moscow park.

A number of LGBT Russians have sought asylum in the U.S. to escape what they have described to the Blade as increased violence and discrimination in their homeland.

“It’s been nearly a year since the Sochi Olympics brought international attention to the situation for Russia’s LGBT community,” said Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First, a Washington-based group that advocates for human rights around the world, in a statement. “While much is happening in the world, it is crucial that we not move onto the next issue and ignore what is happening in Russia…Russian activists who are standing up for justice and human rights for all still face persecution and we must continue to support their efforts.”

Dmitry Svetly, coordinator of the Rainbow Association, a Russian LGBT advocacy group, told the Blade on Saturday that Klimova’s conviction is “not a surprise.”

His organization is among the groups that support an online petition that urges Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Russian officials to stop “persecuting” Children 404.

“Children 404 is the only organization in Russia that provides support for LGBT teenagers,” reads the petition. “Many of them cannot call a helpline or visit a psychologist personally, because they are afraid of being judged or scared that the psychologist could tell parents what the conversation was about.”

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