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WATCH: Report Finds Russian Police Ignore Anti-LGBT Violence

WATCH: Report Finds Russian Police Ignore Anti-LGBT Violence

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Complete with a video exposing the unbearable violence and harassment LGBT Russians endure, an 85-page report reveals more than a year of suffering under a nationwide ban on so-called gay propaganda.

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A comprehensive new report from Human Rights Watch manages to summarize the impact of Russia's nationwide ban on so-called gay propaganda in one succinct phrase: "License to Harm."

That's the potent and accurate title of the 85-page report, which describes in detail the growth in the numbers of attacks on LGBT people in Russia and their severity, ranging from verbal bullying to violent physical assaults by large groups of people against LGBT individuals.

Researching "License to Harm: Violence and Harassment against LGBT people and Activists in Russia," the U.S.-based nonprofit interviewed LGBT people and activists throughout Russia.

As was the case with an earlier report by the Human Rights Campaign, the report finds official passivity and even hostility toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people who report brutal physical attacks or acts of intimidation and bullying.

"Violence experienced by LGBT people in Russia is unmistakably motivated by homophobia, but the authorities deliberately ignore that these are hate crimes and fail to protect victims," said Tanya Cooper, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch in a statement accompanying the report. "Russian authorities should effectively prosecute homophobic violence, and the authorities should stop engaging in and tolerating anti-LGBT discrimination."

Based in Washington, D.C., with operations in Moscow, Human Rights Watch blames the draconian ban on "gay propaganda," signed by Vladimir Putin and enacted in June of 2013, for setting a tone that signaled to politicians, bureaucrats, and private citizens that abusing their LGBT constituents, citizens, and neighbors was acceptable behavior in Putin's evermore nationalistic Russia.

The notorious nationwide ban on so-called gay propaganda makes it a crime to speak, write, or demonstrate in support of LGBT people and equality, claiming such advocacy amounts to "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to minors.

Equating gay people with pedophiles, some violent Russian homophobes have formed vigilante groups which lure young gay men into fake dates or hook-ups sought on social media, then beat the unsuspecting victim in bloody attacks, often forcing them to confess to pedophilia and homosexuality. The attackers film the entire encounter, then post the videos to Russian social networking and international video-sharing sites. The report claims "hundreds" of such videos have already been published.

"I felt blood in my mouth, but only later learned that the attackers had broken my jaw in two places," recounts one victim attacked in this manner and quoted in the report.

The report also offers the story of Andrey Nasonov, who ran toward a swarm of attackers because he saw a rainbow flag in their midst. As it turned out, the only reason the Pride flag was there was because the mass of attackers had surrounded the small contingent of pro-LGBT demonstrators at the officially sanctioned rally.

The tiny LGBT rally was surrounded by hundreds of hate speech-hurling homophobes. The young man thought he was running to get to the LGBT rally for which he had arrived late, but the group turned out to be a collection of violent antigay thugs.

The report paints a harrowing picture:

"Spotting Andrey, bystanders began pelting him with snowballs. He saw a group of people break free from the crowd and sprint towards the activists. Two rushed him, pushed him to the ground and began kicking him in the head, neck, and shoulders. He curled into the fetal position. When he felt the kicking stop, he tried to get up, but lost consciousness. His boyfriend, Igor, tried to revive him, and he briefly came to, thinking that he needed to open his second "stop hate" poster, but it fell out of his hands. He fell down and began convulsing."

Of the 78 victims Human Rights Watch interviewed for the new report, 44 reported their attacks, while 22 others did not report their attacks because they know that few investigations ever follow such reports.

"Russian law enforcement agencies have the tools to prosecute homophobic violence, but they lack the will to do so," Cooper said. "The failure to stop and punish homophobic violence and aggression puts LGBT people and their supporters at further risk of attack."

The report offers Russia a roadmap to recover from its current state of institutionalized homophobia and transphobia, which is ravaging the country's LGBT community. Among 19 bullet points of recommendations for the Russian Federation government, Human Rights Watch urges officials to:

  • Instruct relevant law enforcement agencies, such as the prosecutor general's office, the Ministry of Interior, and the Investigative Committee, to gather data about homophobic and transphobic crimes, and make the gathering of such data compulsory;
  • Instruct the country's prosecutors and judges to pay special attention to and use hate crime legislation when prosecuting crimes and infractions against LGBT people;
  • Monitor law enforcement officials' response to crimes against LGBT people, with the goal of continuously improving the response;
  • Hold accountable and discipline those law enforcement officials who are engaged in hate speech and abusive behavior;
  • Encourage victims of homophobic and transphobic crimes to report to police by introducing and effectively enforcing basic confidentiality standards;

Read the full report here, and watch a video from Human Rights Watch below, in which LGBT people describe the violence they have endured since the passage of the the country's antigay laws.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misstated the number of videos posted by antigay vigilante groups and the number of victims who reported their attacks to authorities. That information has now been updated.

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