Russia arrests LGBTQ+ YouTubers on ‘gay propaganda’ charges

Russian authorities have arrested a same-sex couple for allegedly violating the country’s homophobic ‘gay propaganda’ law.

Bloggers Haoyang Xu and Gela Gogishvili, who originally hail from China and Georgia respectively, were arrested on Wednesday (5 April) over a YouTube video.

The couple regularly document their lives as a same-sex couple in Russia in videos also shared to TikTok and Telegram.

Xu was reportedly stopped in what seemed like a regular ID check. He wasn’t carrying his passport at the time.

The couple were later arrested while at a police station and charged under the “gay propaganda” law.

In an interview with Newsweek, the couple said they were prevented from speaking to lawyers and “pressured” into signing a number of documents.

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Because police didn’t take their phones, they were reportedly able to get word of their arrest out. Supporters called the station and they were eventually given access to a lawyer.

Gogishvili has since been released from jail, but Xu remains in custody at the time of reporting.

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Their lawyer, Adel Khaydarshin, posted a Telegram message following the arrest, saying that the couple could face a fine of up to 50,000 rubles (£501) or jail time.

They will reportedly appear before court Thursday (6 April).

Haoyang Xu and Gela Gogishvili, have lived together in Kazan since 2021, sharing a TikTok account with 377,000 followers and a YouTube channel with over 65,000 subscribers.

Their last video, published on 1 April, discusses the ‘gay propaganda’ law and how it could pose a dangerous threat to queer people across the country.

“Due to constant intimidation and death threats, we have to hide for some time,” the video’s description read.

“We are very afraid for our lives, we have been afraid to write anything online for a long time and actively consulted with lawyers of major human rights organisations.”

Vladimir Komov, senior partner of the Moscow-based DELO LGBTQ+ group told Newsweek that Kazan police has been investigating the pair since March.

Amendments to Russia’s ‘gay propaganda’ law were signed into law by Vladimir Putin in November 2022, extending it to adults.

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The law forbids the distribution of materials that it deems are “promoting non-traditional values, LGBT, feminism, and a distorted representation of traditional sexual values”. Previously, it had only prohibited content directed at minors.

Fines for individuals who violate the law can go as high as 400,000 roubles (£5,466), while private companies that are in breach of the policy will be fined up to five million roubles (£68,327).

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