A gay couple in Russia popular on TikTok were arrested by police and charged with violating the country’s strict anti-LGBTQ+ laws this week.
Russian Gela Gogishvili, 23, told Newsweek he and his Chinese national boyfriend Haoyang Xu, 21, were arrested by police in the city of Kazan on Wednesday and charged under a series of Russian laws which include a ban on the positive depicture of LGBTQ+ persons in media and the dissemination of “gay propaganda” to minors. Gogishvili was released, but Haoyang remains in a Russian jail facing the threat of deportation immediate deportation.
“It became a living hell because the impossible happened,” Goglishvili told Newsweek following the arrest.
Gogishvili and Xu have a popular TikTok channel with over 370,000 followers and 65,000 subscribers where they post short videos about their life together as a gay couple. The pair met two years ago on a dating app, and have endured some abuse at the hands of “homophobes” during that period, but it was nothing compared to what happened next. They said in a video posted to their YouTube channel that their lives were thrown into chaos when they learned they were under investigation for promoting their life as a gay couple on social media.
Xu learned one of the teachers at the university where he is a student received a warning from the police about the content of their social media.
“’You can’t behave like that’ and ‘you need to follow the law of Russia and the traditional values of the country,’” Xu said of the teacher in a video the couple posted prior to Xu’s arrest. “After that, I was very scared.
The pair said police started looking for Gogishvili and Xu in March, visiting pharmacies across the city with a picture of Gogishvili, who is employed as a pharmacist. They also claim police were able to send a message to them via the messaging program WhatsApp. The pair were later told they had been charged under the anti-LGBTQ+ laws, but only needed to sign some papers and pay a fine. Gogishvili said police left them with the option of visiting the police station, or having an unarmed police officer come to their home. The two men said they were suspicious because they had been subjected to hate and abuse in recent years, so they told police they would think about it.
“As you know, last year Russia passed a law against LGBT propaganda and now the state has untied the hands of all the homophobes of Russia,” Gela said in the video posted prior to the arrests. “And now representatives of the queer community are being attacked, people are imprisoned, fined, forced to flee the country, persecuted.”
Then on Wednesday, police stopped the couple as they were at a museum with friends. They took Xu back to their apartment to retrieve his passport and visa, then took the pair to the local police station were they were subjected to questioning. Gogishvili said police tried to force the couple to sign papers admitting their guilt, but they refused. Following an outcry from their supporters, Gogishvili was released but Xu remained in the custody of the police. He said police confiscated Xu’s phone and threatened to deport him within days back to China.
“I’m holding in tears because I don’t have time to cry right now,” Gogishvili told Newsweek.
Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new law that expanded a 2013 ban against spreading “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors to also include adults. The new law took effect December 5 and made it illegal to promote or “praise” LGBTQ+ relationships, publicly express non-heterosexual orientations, or suggest that they are “normal.” The new law also banned all advertising, media, and online resource books, films, and theater productions that affirm the LGBTQ+ community or individuals.
Gogishvili and Xu are expected to appear in court later today. If convicted, they will be subject to administrative fines while Xu could be immediately deported.
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