Russian govt wiretapped local gay activists, US-based Human Rights Campaign, HRW

The latest news out of Russia it that the government is now wiretapping gay activists in an effort to possibly paint them as foreign agents who are enemies of the state.

The Russian government spied on a meeting between local gay and trans activists and international human rights groups, organized by the Soros Foundation, and attended by Human Rights Watch, All Out, and America’s own Human Rights Campaign (HRC is our largest gay rights group).

Russian state TV broadcast audio from the meeting on November 12, in an effort to prove a “western homosexualist invasion” of Russian was taking place.

What a seriously messed up country.

Kidnapped young gay Russian forced to drink urine by vigilante groups the Russian government refuses to prosecute.

Kidnapped young gay Russian forced to drink urine by vigilante groups the Russian government refuses to prosecute.

Those of you who didn’t have to live through the Soviet years should count yourselves lucky, because for the rest of us, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is all too sadly familiar.

I visited the Soviet Union in early 1984 and it was a beautiful and terrifying place.  People on the street, on public buses, on airplanes, were scared of being seen with us.  The climate of fear was pervasive.  I’ve traveled to around 30 countries, and have never been to a scarier place.  It lived up to its reputation and then some, including watching several new friends be arrested by the secret police for hanging around with us.

And now President Putin has made his bed with the worst elements of Russian society – not just homophobia, but xenophobia and racism and violence too.  The Russians are still kidnaping young gays, torturing them and posting the videos online.  The government does nothing about it.  So now the growing conspiracy of kidnappers is targeting foreigners, as we predicted it would, and focusing on race.  I wrote the other day about the young black South African who was held captive these men and had a watermelon shoved in his face.  Violent racism was already a problem in Russia, but with Putin’s wink and a nod it’s now becoming a problem for foreigners too.

Russian vigilante groups have organized around the country to kidnap young gay people and terrorize them.

Russian vigilante groups have organized around the country to kidnap young gay people and terrorize them, in this case a young South African who had a watermelon shoved in his face, presumably because he’s black. Russians are notoriously racist, and violently so.


Our reporting on Russia began with the country’s passage of a nationwide ban on “gay propaganda,” that basically is a ban on anyone being openly gay, or anyone voicing opinions that are perceived as pro-gay.

But quickly, as predicted, the speech ban became a threat to foreigners as the top levels of the Russian government threatened to arrest foreign Olympic athletes, media and guests attending the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  As usual, the International Olympic Committee, seemingly more interested in corporate sponsors like Coke, McDonald’s and Visa, than human rights or the safety of Olympic attendees, has whitewashed the threat and deteriorating human rights and public safety situation in Russia.

This is a country in which one Russian expert recently admitted it is not safe for black people to visit anywhere in the country that is outside of Moscow’s city center.

The irony of course is that the clampdown against gay and other minorities appears to be happening precisely because the Olympics are coming.  So in a very real way, the Olympics are responsible for the deteriorating human rights situation in Russia.  Congrats, Coke, McDonald’s and Visa!

Russian police detain a gay rights activist during an attempt to hold the unauthorized gay pride parade on May 28, 2011 in Moscow, Russia. kojoku / - Coke logo added.

Russian police detain a gay rights activist during an attempt to hold the unauthorized gay pride parade on May 28, 2011 in Moscow, Russia. kojoku / – Coke logo added.

Fortunately, human rights advocates, around the world, are fighting back.  Whether its targeting Putin’s cultural allies, or more recently absolutely destroying an ongoing Russian business investment forum taking place in New York City – strike that, that WAS taking place in New York City.  Now it’s a wreck after its keynote speaker dropped out, as did the law firm that was cosponsoring and hosting the event, in the face of rising concerns from human rights activists, most notably NYC’s Queer Nation:

According to the Goodwin spokesman: “Recently, several troubling issues, including the Russian government’s anti-gay policies, were brought to our attention, and … Mr. Silkenat withdrew as keynote speaker for the event over this past weekend. These issues were discussed at length by Goodwin’s leaders, members of our Russian practice and the leaders of Goodwin’s longstanding partner-led LGBT committee. Based on these concerns and Mr. Silkenat’s withdrawal, we reached a decision [Monday] night that we could not provide space or support for the event and communicated that to The Russian Center.”

Sounds like the business climate in Russia has turned a tad sour. Sad, that.

(I’m told that in order to actually see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me – so say the experts.)

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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17 Responses to “Russian govt wiretapped local gay activists, US-based Human Rights Campaign, HRW”

  1. ComradeRutherford says:

    The IOC released a statement: The IOC heartily endorses the persecution of gays and blacks, which is why we are rewarding Russia by holding the Olympics at Sochi.

  2. Igor Rzhayutik says:

    God hates fags. USA is doomed !

  3. chris10858 says:

    The LGBT civil rights groups need to push members of Congress to call for travel restrictions for Americans to Russia. Since the terrorists are now targeting persons of color, perhaps members of the Black Caucus will be willing to get involved as well in pushing for this as well.

  4. chris10858 says:

    Hahaha… yes, agreed!! My guess is talking about fundraising and how many more of those stickers they can get people to put their cars on.

  5. dcinsider says:

    If they taped HRC, can they let the rest of us know what the hell they do all day?

  6. Ninong says:

    Vladimir Putin is playing to the latent homophobia and xenophobia of the Russian people as a way to consolidate personal political power. That’s why he’s cozying up to the Russian Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow. His personal political power was weak going into the last election, which he literally stole with rigged ballot boxes in many districts, so he’s shoring it up by setting himself up as their righteous leader fighting against the corrupt Western Powers and their degenerate values. That’s the theme of all his latest speeches, even those he gives in Europe! According to Little Vlad, the secular West has lost its Christian values and is heading in the wrong direction and it’s all the fault of The Gays!

    Little Vlad is the white knight in shining armor astride his white stallion riding into battle against the immoral West. It’s the West that is to blame for spreading the “homosexual agenda” to Russia. Russian children must be protected from their corrupt influence. It’s still okay to be openly gay in Russia as long as you don’t ever say anything positive about that “lifestyle,” because any public statement in support of non-traditional sexual relations is a violation of the law and can land you in the gulag.

    Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (I like to call him “Little Vlad”) is quite skillful in knowing when the time is ripe to adapt to a changing environment. He knew exactly when it was time to resign his commission in the KGB and jump on the Yeltsin bandwagon. Then he blackmailed Yeltsin to get himself promoted within the administration. His KGB training proved quite helpful in that regard. Now he’s using The Gays in Russia as his new enemy within and the immoral West as the enemy without, and he has the backing of the Russian Orthodox Church.

  7. jomicur says:

    They’re alarmed about gays infiltrating their nation? Then how do we account for the fact that they keep inviting gays to visit? Elton John, Thomas Roberts, Andy Cohen (who, bless his heart, had the good sense and integrity to refuse the opportunity)… And they keep telling us that gay athletes and spectators at the Olympics are just fine with them, too. Apparently it’s only native Russian gay people who are “infiltrating” Russia. Go figure, huh?

  8. MyrddinWilt says:

    Another reason that now is the time to act.

    Putin has already turned Russia into NAZI Germany but only the 1933 version so far. We haven’t had the Reichstag fire or the Kristallnacht.

    I went to a lunch yesterday where a former very senior US intelligence officer was speaking. One of the few things they have realized from their NSA mess is that it has caused immense harm to US foreign policy.

    Which side India and Brazil take would not really matter very much if Russia was on a path to becoming a liberal democracy.

  9. 2patricius2 says:

    The question I have, is what happens to LGBT people and their allies and other groups currently being targeted, after the Olympics are over. If things are this bad now, what will they be like after the spotlights have been turned off?

  10. Bill_Perdue says:

    Putin is apparently trying to put a softer face on his homophobic attacks with a new tactic. “Russian anti-gay extremist under criminal investigation, reportedly flees country MOSCOW — Russian authorities have initiated criminal proceedings against a Russian ultra-nationalist responsible for several homophobic assaults on LGBT persons, including attacks on citizens from Ukraine, Iraq, and South Africa. … Maxim Sergeyevich Martsinkevich, also known by his street nickname “Tesak” — which translates as “The Cleaver” — has been charged under Part 1 of article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code, Incitement of ethnic and social hatred. The charge is punishable by a sentence of 3–5 years imprisonment.

    It won’t work. Putin represents the new owners of Russians economy, gangster capitalists, and various groups that moved even further right when they left the CP after the fall of the USSR. One of the main engines driving the new capitalist economy in Russia is Gazprom which produces huge profits and credits selling heating gas to Europe. However,those and other profits from formerly state owned enterprises barely, if at all, ‘trickle down’ to workers. It’s very much like the situation in the US in terms of cutting the standard of living of working people and it’s producing a challenge to Putins right wing coalition by a new union left and by the reemergence of an open left opposition. Putin’s attempt to divert the growing influence of his left critics with anti-LGBT campaigns is unlikely to work and as we’ve seen it’ll just produce more problems for Putin.

    Our best strategy is to support the Russian LGBT communities and to organize protest rallies against Putin and his allies like MSNBC/MSN/Comcast, Coke and others.

  11. When is Anonymous going to take on Russia?

  12. As we’ve discussed with Nazi Germany examples, it tends to be a little too late if you wait to discuss the path that they’re on until after they’ve finished their journey :)

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  14. mikeyDe says:

    Is it time for Obama to publish an editorial complaining about Russian exceptionalism in the pages of Коммерсантъ?

  15. FLL says:

    The BuzzFeed article linked to in this post has some interesting details about the Russian government broadcast about this activist meeting at the Holiday Inn in St. Petersburg. Here are some quotations from the government broadcast:

    “Their [the LGBT activists’] words are presented as an example of ‘excessively radical, aggressive propaganda’ that is dragging Russia into ‘a war’ with the West, a plausible scenario according to one of the broadcast’s guests with close ties to the Kremlin, political analyst Alexei Mukhin.” [Emphasis mine]

    War? Figuratively speaking?

  16. MyrddinWilt says:

    Russia is bad but it is not the Soviet Union. The reason this matters is because of tactics. I do not spend time trying to get the Internet into North Korea because the regime murders people for watching South Korea TV. They just murdered 80 people last week. Russia is not North Korea, it is more like Franco’s Spain, a thugish dictatorship cloaked in what is increasingly a sham democracy.

    Public opinion didn’t have much effect on Stalin, but it greatly limits Putin’s ability to maneuver. Like France, Russia aspires to recapture the former glories of its empire. And like France it is completely oblivious to the fact that the countries it formerly subjugated see absolutely nothing glorious in that past.

    The problem of Russia is that they have backed the wrong side in every international conflict they have tried to involve themselves in since the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. They are currently backing the wrong side in Syria, nobody expects the Assad regime to reassert control over the areas they have lost. The reason they are so desperate to stop the fall of the Assad regime is that there are a half dozen ex-Soviet republics round the Black Sea and Caspian Sea that are likely to be the next dominos to fall. Each failure sets the regime up for the next as they become even more desperate and it is hard to see what can be done about the situation.

    Scapegoating a minority is the domestic consequence.

    It is quite possible, probable even that Putin has decided to target gays because the US is very closely identified with the gay rights cause. It may not seem that way domestically with the neanderthal behavior of the GOP and religious right, but it is there.

    This isn’t just lawless behavior, it is in many cases state sanctioned lawlessness. Putin has formed four stormtrooper type organizations to ‘own the streets’ should an orange revolution type affair break out. The organizations fund themselves through crime, especially Internet crimes like bank fraud against US and other foreign banks. The trophy videos are taken by the members hired to provide ‘muscle’ rather than income to earn promotion in the ranks.

    What we really need is for other countries to be applying the pressure as well. To use a metaphor, Russia is the school bully who tries to look tough by beating up the younger brother of a student who graduated and became a prize fighting boxer. Words from the older brother can only do so much, words from all the younger brother’s classmates can be much more effective.

    We could really use some statements on the record rejecting the lawlessness in Russian society from other countries where Russia is trying to extend its sphere of influence. Brazil and India would carry a lot of weight.

    We also need to defund these criminal organizations. The best way to do that is to lock down the world financial infrastructure to limit their source of funds (they also engage in internal thuggery but that is far less profitable). At the moment Internet crime is treated as a cost of doing business. We have to think instead of denying funds to the enemy.

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