Russia's homophobic laws leading to an anti-LGBTI crackdown in other countries in the region - new report

Riot police arresting people at an LGBTI rights protest in Minsk in Belarus © Victor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images

Human rights groups are themselves ostracising LGBTI activists 

‘The idea, promoted by Russia, that LGBTI rights are ‘western values’ that somehow constitute a threat to national security, is entrenching elsewhere’ - Denis Krivosheev 

Russia’s crusade against non-traditional sexual relationships is fuelling a rise in hostility towards LGBTI human rights groups in other countries in the region, said Amnesty International in a new report today.

Amnesty’s 62-page report - ‘Less equal: LGBTI human rights defenders in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan’ - shows how these four countries, Russia’s closest allies in the region, have all recently embarked on a crackdown on LGBTI rights.

The crackdown appears to mirror repressive anti-LGBTI rhetoric and practices emanating from Moscow. 

All four countries have attempted to introduce homophobic “propaganda” laws, similar to Russia’s own notorious law. So far, only Belarus has done so, adopting a variation of Russia’s law last year. Meanwhile, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan have amended their constitutions to explicitly preclude same-sex marriages.

LGBTI groups in each of the former Soviet republics have faced a raft of repressive government tactics to silence them. With few exceptions, gay pride marches have been banned or have become the targets of attacks by homophobic groups, with the police generally failing to prevent hate crimes or properly investigate them afterwards.
 
Freedom of association is limited for all LGBTI activists - and while in Armenia and Kyrgyzstan a small number of NGOs working on LGBTI rights are registered, only activists and informal groups are active in Belarus and Kazakhstan. A prominent LGBTI activist in Belarus told Amnesty he could no longer continue with his work as “the personal risks were too great.” He had lost several jobs because of his activism and faced repeated police questioning. The majority of Amnesty’s interviewees in all four countries wished to remain anonymous due to security concerns or other possible ramifications.

Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director, said:

“The idea, promoted by Russia, that LGBTI rights are ‘western values’ that somehow constitute a threat to national security, is entrenching elsewhere. 
 
“LGBTI activists have long faced discrimination, including among other human rights groups. Now the extent of Russian influence and the reach of its media has played a significant role in further worsening the situation for LGBTI groups in the region.

“It’s a climate of ignorance and hate that’s being fostered by national governments and is even infecting the human rights community in the region.

“State authorities in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan must ensure that LGBTI groups can carry out their human rights work in safety and without any discrimination.
 
“Amnesty International calls on human rights groups across the region to work alongside LGBTI rights organisations, united by the principle of the universality of human rights.”

Discrimination even within human rights circles 

Amnesty’s report shows how LGBTI human rights activists in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have come to feel “less equal” even within their local human rights communities, which are dominated by “mainstream” human rights groups that don’t primarily work on LGBTI rights.
 
Kyrgyzstan activists told Amnesty that “no-one wants to be associated with us”. Following a homophobic attack on an LGBTI event in May 2015, just one prominent Kyrgyzstani human rights organisation condemned the assault.

For LGBTI groups in each country, the lack of support from the broader human rights community is the biggest source of demoralisation and frustration.
 
Mikayel Danielyan, former Head of the Helsinki Association, who sadly died of a heart attack in August 2016, was one of the earliest advocates for LGBTI rights in Armenia. Prior to his death he recalled that some parliamentarians and other human rights activists refused to sit at the same table with him during public events. 

Denis Krivosheev added:

“LGBTI activists not only bear the social stigma of being marginalised and ostracised by society, they are also treated as second-class rights defenders within their human rights communities.”

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Less equal: LGBTI human rights defenders in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan