Watch: Russian gays reveal harrowing stories of vigilante violence

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Human Rights Watch has published a new report on rising levels of extreme anti-gay violence in Russia.

The report ‘License To Harm’ details the harassment and abuse that is commonplace in Russia, gathered through interviews with LGBT people and activists. It also documents the failure of law enforcement to properly investigate homophobic attacks, or prosecute the attackers.

According to the report, since Russia passed laws banning the distribution of information about gay relationships to children, homophobic violence and harassment has increased enormously. LGBT people have faced such things as having homophobic slurs shouted at them in public, being accused of being “paedophiles” and “perverts” and being fired from their jobs.

One man said: “A man approached me in the metro and asked me whether I was afraid to walk ‘dressed like this.’ He asked me, ‘Do you know we have a law that bans gays?’

“He then started to yell offensive insults about me, calling me a ‘faggot,’ asked people around to take a good look at me, and followed me into a train. Inside the metro car he called me a ‘faggot’ and slapped me in the face.”

The report also details attacks by vigilante anti-LGBT gangs which kidnap and abuse gay Russians, often filming the attacks and distributing them on the internet. The police rarely investigate these crimes, often blaming the victims for bringing it on themselves. The very few attackers who have been prosecuted were given comparatively lenient sentences.

Another man spoke about his experience as a victim of a vigilante gang, saying: “They forced me to yell that I was a paedophile and gay. They called themselves ‘Athletes against Paedophiles’ and told me, ‘We will catch all of you and we will teach you how to live.’

“It was around 5pm, so there were a lot of people in the shopping mall, shopping and dining. But no one stopped them, no one interfered.”

Human Rights Watch researcher Tanya Cooper said: “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.

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

“The anti-LGBT “propaganda” law doesn’t protect anyone, but it does give homophobes a convenient reason to believe LGBT lives matter less to the government. The Russian government should repeal the law and stop discrimination against Russia’s LGBT citizens.”