An LGBTQ+ rights activist, visual artist, and children's theater director in Russia has been accused of acting as a foreign agent and could serve over three years in prison for violating the country's strict anti-LGBTQ+ pornography laws.
Yulia Tsvetkova, 27, from Komsomolsk-on-Amur on the far eastern edge of the country, is on trial in a closed courtroom for posting drawings of the human vagina to a page on the Russian social networking platform V Kontakte. Since then she has lost her job, was forced to close her MERAK youth theater studio because of threats to the children, and the entire process has left her life in tatters, she's said.
"Speaking of facts, my life has been completely destroyed," Tsvetkova told the BBC. "This is not a metaphor, this is reality."
According to a report in the Russian-language OVD, Tsvetkova was turned into authorities by Timur Bulatov, a self-described anti-LGBTQ+ activist, who claimed the artistic drawings of the vagina, including those drawn by Tsvetkova of her own vagina, she posted to her "Vagina Monologues" page (named after the play of the same name) violated article 242 of Russia's draconian criminal code. The page was used to share body-positive art featuring women's bodies.
Since November 2019, she has been a defendant in five different trials related to the accusations. More recently, prosecutors requested she also be officially labeled a foreign label, accusing her of working with philanthropist George Soros since she accepted grants for her work from Soros-related groups.
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"I never hid grants, I'm proud of it that a small regional initiative can get support from an international fund -- it's cool. It's not shameful, it's not criminal, it's a legal activity," Tsvetkova told the BBC.
The European Court of Human Rights recently ruled Russia's foreign agent laws are used to illegally repress the right of free association.
"The charges against Tsvetkova have no legal basis. It took law enforcement four attempts to get the prosecutor to approve the indictment against her," Human Rights Watch said in a report. "The case against Tsvetkvoa is a blatant violation of freedom of expression protected under international law. If convicted, she will no longer be able to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights to contest the injustice, as Russia spirals into isolation amid its war on Ukraine."
Tsvetkova recently went on a hunger strike to open the proceedings to the public, but to no avail. While she awaits a verdict, Tsvetkova faces an uncertain future.
"I don't want to shout that the sky is falling on my head, but the prospects are bleak," she said of her situation.