Russian activist facing jail for drawing vaginas to go on hunger strike until ‘cowardly’ state allows public trial

Yulia Tsvetkova

Russian LGBT+ activist and artist Yulia Tsvetkova has declared she will undergo a hunger strike until the state can “be a man” and allow her a public trial.

Tsvetkova, 27, faces up to six years in jail over accusations of distributing pornography after posting stylised drawings of women’s naked bodies on social website VKontakte. The trial, which started in April, came after a year-long investigation during which Tsvetkova was fined for spreading “gay propaganda”. Her case is being heard behind closed doors with no public or press allowed in.

In a Facebook post on Saturday (1 May), Tsvetkova wrote that she would be going on a hunger strike over the Russian state’s “cowardly” handling of her case, RFERL reported. She said the hunger strike would continue until the state could “be a man” and allow her a public trial.

Tsvetkova wrote: “I demand to open my process to the public because the reasons for closing it are drawn to the ears.

“I demand that I be able to defend myself by all legal means and allow a public defender into the process.”

Vladimir Putin and his government banned so-called “gay propaganda” in 2013, prohibiting the “promotion of nontraditional sexual relations to minors”. Under his rule, sharing information about LGBT+ people’s lives can earn a person a prison sentence.

Tsvetkova’s lawyer, Irina Ruchko, told local reporters after the first day of the hearing in April that Yulia Tsvetkova maintains her innocence and her defence team aims to prove it in court.

Amnesty International said the case is “Kafkaesque absurdity” and urged Russian authorities to drop the “ridiculous and unfounded charges”. The human rights organisation added it was ‘absurd’ that the judge in Tsvetkova’s case “ruled that the trial will be closed to the public and the press” under the “pretext that Yulia’s so-called ‘pornographic materials’ will be examined during the hearings”.

Yulia Tsvetkova has been regularly targeted by Russian authorities for sharing LGBT+ drawings.

Tsvetkova was placed under house arrest and charged with distributing “gay propaganda” as well as the distribution of “criminal pornography” in November 2019. She was charged again in December 2019 with distributing “gay propaganda” about intersectional feminism. Tsvetkova was fined 50,000 rubles (£561).

She was also investigated for running a social media page called Vagina Monologues, which encouraged people to share artistic depictions of women’s naked bodies to “remove the taboo”. Tsvetkova faces a criminal charge for the office of pornography after posting drawings of vaginas online in this group.

In July 2020, she was fined 75,000 rubles (£842) on “gay propaganda” charges for posting colourful drawings of gay and lesbian couples online.