By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com November 14 2013 3:27 PM ET
Russian government officials reportedly spied on a private strategy meeting between Russian LGBT activists and four international human rights organizations, then published the secretly recorded audio on state-sponsored TV, according to BuzzFeed.
A segment of the audio was released Tuesday, when it was broadcast on a Kremlin-backed network as part of an "exposé" uncovering the "threat to Russia" from the "homosexualists who attempt to infiltrate our country," reports BuzzFeed.
The so-called documentary report uses audio excerpts from an October 12 meeting that was unknowingly recorded at a St. Petersburg Holiday Inn, which included representatives of six of Russia's LGBT organizations as well as officials from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Human Rights Watch, and All Out, according to BuzzFeed. The October meeting was reportedly organized by the Open Society Foundation, founded by Democratic fundraiser and philanthropist George Soros. The two-day meeting was convened to discuss the increasingly dire state of LGBT existence in Russia ahead of the country's hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
This summer, the State Duma unanimously passed and president Vladimir Putin signed into law a ban on "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships" in any medium or venue that might be accessible to minors, essentially criminalizing positive depictions of LGBT identities. LGBT Russians and tourists have been arrested, beaten, and harassed with increasingly frequency and violence under the state-sanctioned discrimination. Russian and Olympic officials have repeatedly said that LGBT athletes and spectators will be safe in Sochi during the games without providing clear explanations as to what kind of behavior might be considered "propaganda."
The state-sponsored TV report, however, painted the October meeting in a much more sinister light. According to BuzzFeed's translation of the Russian-language broadcast, the program characterized the October meeting as a "for-reasons-unclear, closed-to-the-public conference funded by the Soros Foundation [organized because] foreigners were afraid the LGBT-ization of Russia is going too slowly."
Using audio from participants in the meeting who voiced frustration with Olympic sponsors that have been reticent to speak out against Russia's crackdown on LGBT people, the Russian report claims the statements represent an “excessively radical, aggressive propaganda” that is dragging Russia into “a war” with the West, according to BuzzFeed.
The broadcast concludes with anchor Alexander Buzaladze warning that “the attack on Russia is already in full-swing,” alleging that the nation could be forced to embrace marriage equality and other steps toward LGBT equality in the face of "massive LGBT propaganda."
An organizer with Human Rights Watch who was present at the October meeting told BuzzFeed, "Russia should get a gold medal in Olympic spying."
"At a time when Russia ought to be unfurling the red carpet to the international community, it is instead increasingly operating with a Soviet approach,” Human Rights Watch’s director of global initiatives, Minky Worden, told BuzzFeed. "This is blatant targeting of gay activists for Soviet-like surveillance, and then using material selectively to stoke an anti-gay campaign broadcast to millions across Russia. … It really ought to make the [International Olympic Committee] and the Olympic sponsors — plus Olympic athletes and other governments — profoundly nervous because it gives the lie to the so-called ‘assurances’ by the Russian government and the IOC that the anti-gay law will not be enforced during the Olympic games."
Watch the Russian state TV program below (in Russian), with the audio from the bugged meeting first introduced at the 13:00 mark, and find more about what the report entailed at BuzzFeed.