First tourists arrested under Russia's ban on "gay propaganda"

Four Dutch nationals were arrested on Sunday for reportedly asking young people about their views on gay rights

Published July 22, 2013 1:15PM (EDT)

Russian President Vladimir Putin                            (AP/Ivan Sekretarev)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (AP/Ivan Sekretarev)

Four Dutch tourists were arrested in Russia on Sunday for violating the country's ban on "homosexual propaganda," making them the first foreigners to be charged under the new law.

According to a statement from the Russian LGBT Network, the Dutch gay rights advocate Kris van der Veen reportedly interviewed young people about their views on gay rights for a documentary about human rights in Russia, a violation of the draconian law criminalizing the free expression of gays and lesbians in the country:

Four Dutch citizens are accused of spreading "propaganda of non-traditional relationships among the under-aged" (that is, gay propaganda). [On the] 20th and 21st of July, on the campsite called "Frigate," a cultural event was held under the title "Youth for Human Rights Camp". In its program there was included the performance of Kris van der Veen from Dutch LGBT-Groningen. In addition, there were shown shots of a documentary telling about the Human Rights situation in Russia.

On the 21st of July police officers and representatives of the Russian Federal Migration Service arrived at the campsite, questioned the participants and stated that the article 6.21.3 ("propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among the under-aged, spread by citizen of a foreign country") was violated because in the video material there were interviews of under-aged people.

A hearing was scheduled for the group on Monday, but has been postponed. If convicted, they could face up to two weeks in jails, heavy fines and deportation.

The new law severely restricts the movement and free speech of gays, lesbians and their allies, but the international community has been relatively quiet about Putin's anti-gay crusading, as a Monday editorial by Harvey Fierstein in the New York Times notes:

Mr. Putin’s campaign against lesbian, gay and bisexual people is one of distraction, a strategy of demonizing a minority for political gain taken straight from the Nazi playbook. Can we allow this war against human rights to go unanswered? Although Mr. Putin may think he can control his creation, history proves he cannot: his condemnations are permission to commit violence against gays and lesbians. Last week a young gay man was murdered in the city of Volgograd. He was beaten, his body violated with beer bottles, his clothing set on fire, his head crushed with a rock. This is most likely just the beginning.

Nevertheless, the rest of the world remains almost completely ignorant of Mr. Putin’s agenda. His adoption restrictions have received some attention, but it has been largely limited to people involved in international adoptions.

But Fierstein sees the Winter Olympics in Sochi as a unique opportunity to apply pressure to Putin:

This must change. With Russia about to hold the Winter Games in Sochi, the country is open to pressure. American and world leaders must speak out against Mr. Putin’s attacks and the violence they foster. The Olympic Committee must demand the retraction of these laws under threat of boycott.


By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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