Human Rights Watch blasts Olympics over worsening plight of Russian gays

This is getting interesting.   Human Rights Watch, one of the lead international human rights groups, has written a rather direct letter to the International Olympic Committee, scolding the IOC for its inaction in the face of growing anti-gay hate in Russia, something which violates the Olympic charter.

And the point isn’t simply academic.  Russia will be hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, and there’s growing concern about the safety of foreign athletes and tourists, especially gay ones.

Russia is on the verge of passing legislation that will make it basically illegal to be pro-gay in the country.  Any pro-gay speech, sentiment, or action will be against the law, and the legislation specifically provides for arresting pro-gay foreigners for up to two weeks’ detention in a Russian prison before being deported.

Certainly some Olympic athletes attending the Sotchi games will be gay, as will be many of the visitors to the games.  The Russians have made no assurances that their anti-gay pogrom won’t touch the Olympics, and in fact it already has.  Russia has banned the Olympics from having a Gay Pride house for LGBT athletes.  When that happened last year, the IOC issued a weak-tea statement that did absolutely nothing, even though such discrimination is a clear violation of the Olympic charter.

If you think Olympic athletes and tourists aren’t at risk, then you need to get up to speed on the latest news, because it isn’t good.  Gay activists are routinely, violently attacked by far-right thugs, who many believe are in cahoots with the Russian police.  And the courts are now joining President Putin in his anti-gay putsch.  A Russian woman was just fined 20,000 rubles, or around $600, by a Russian court for holding a rainbow flag at a protest.  Keep in mind that middle class Russians make between $4000 to $10,000 a year, so this is easily one-month’s wages.

Russian anti-gay thugs kick an LGBT rights activist. (Photo by Ilya Varlamov, with permission)

Young Russian anti-gay thugs kick an LGBT rights activist. (Photo by Ilya Varlamov, with permission)

And today we find out that the US State Department is getting involved as well.  Michael Lavers of the Washington Blade sat down with Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department, recently and talked about Russia:

“We are absolutely against any legislation that prohibits same-sex consensual relations and we speak out against it and so it’s a consistent position,” Zeya said. “We’re very concerned by the overall direction in Russia. It is something that we have communicated directly to the Russian government.”

In diplomatic speak, having an official that senior say they’re “very concerned” is considered significant, and probably won’t make the Russians happy.

But you know who else isn’t happy?  Gay Russians who are now being subjected to violence because of the climate of hate that Putin has fomented:

Authorities continue to investigate the death of a gay Russian man whose body was found near the city of Volgograd on May 10.

The Moscow Times reported investigators said they found Vladislav Tornovoi’s body in the courtyard of an apartment building outside the southern Russian city. The newspaper cited local media that said Tornovoi’s assailants sodomized him with empty beer bottles and set his body on fire after he came out to them after they celebrated Victory Day that commemorates Germany’s surrender to the then-Soviet Union at the end of World War II.

Doesn’t that sound Olympically fun?

Russian gays living in the US, but originally from Russia, are calling for a boycott of the Sochi games:

“LGBT people in Russia are scared, they live in fear, and we want people to be aware of the issue. If they feel strongly about human rights they should boycott the Olympics in Sochi,” said Nina Long, co-president of RUSA LGBT, a Russian-speaking LGBT organization based in New York.

“We really want the LGBT community to know it’s unsafe to travel there,” she said in an interview with RIA Novosti.

So enjoy the Olympics in Sochi. If you survive them.

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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