The State of California pension fund, CalPERS, announced today that it has divested itself from $20 million worth of shares in two Russian companies in response to neo-Nazi attacks against gays in that country, according to the Financial Times.
AMERICAblog was one of the first last year to raise the alarm about Russian neo-Nazi gangs that kidnaps gays, Jews and blacks — some as young as 13 years of age — torture them on film, then post the videos to Russian social media giant VKontakte, which generally refuses to remove them.
Subsequently, Queer Nation NYC uncovered that both the pension plans of the state of California and the city and state of New York invest in VKontakte affiliate MegaFon. Queer Nation NYC has been pressuring both the city and state of New York to take action, while the National Center for Lesbian Rights, working with AMERICAblog, did the same with CalPERS.
VKontakte, or VK.com, was founded and run by Pavel Durov, who recently left the company in order to work on his new venture, Instagram. During Durov’s reign, little was done to address the fact that the Russian neo-Nazis were using VK.com to organize and publicize their kidnappings, including posting “help wanted” ads seeking fellow kidnappers and apartments in which to commit the crimes.
CalPERS sold stakes in VKontakte affiliates Mail.ru, an Internet portal, and mobile phone company MegaFon. Both companies are controlled by Russian oligarch and friend of Putin Alisher Usmanov, who also controls VKontakte.
VKontakte’s CEO Dmitry Sergeev told the Financial Times that aiding and abetting the kidnapping and torture of gays, Jews and blacks is apparently considered “free speech” in Russia:
Dmitry Sergeev, VKontakte’s chief operating officer, said he was surprised by Calpers’ decision.
Mr Sergeev said: “We remain committed to ensure protection of all VK users from discrimination based on sex, ethnicity or lifestyle. We are committed to free speech and open communication and are always ready for the dialogue with the public including VK.com users and advocacy groups.”
Keep in mind that Britain’s Channel 4 did a high-profile documentary on the Russian neo-Nazis gangs earlier this year, and contacted VK.com at the time. VK.com claimed it was unaware of the problem and would take action immediately. That was back in February of 2014. Nothing was done, other than to block foreigners from being able to see the evidence fo the crimes.
Apparently in response to concerns about the neo-Nazi organizing taking place on its network, VKontakte banned foreign IP addresses from viewing some of the neo-Nazi hate on its site, while leaving the content up for Russian audiences (I confirmed with Russians in Russia that they could still the content that was blocked for those coming from America and Europe). In other words, VK.com didn’t remove the neo-Nazi kidnapping videos and the neo-Nazi help-wanted ads, they simply blocked foreign advocates from being able to see, and complain about, the neo-Nazi content.
So, in fact, VK.com was willing to restrict free speech when said speech might serve as evidence of the company’s tacit complicity in a crime. VKontakte was not, however, willing to remove the actual complicity — they were only willing to remove human rights advocates’ ability to see and complain about it.
Back in March of 2014, at the request of CalPERS, AMERICAblog prepared a 23-page dossier detailing the extent of the neo-Nazi organizing still taking place at VKontakte. At that time, there were 3,690 videos on VKontakte published by the neo-Nazi kidnapping group “Occupy Pedophilia.” Today, May 16, 2014, there are 3,975 such videos – nearly a 10% increase. Most of the videos were taken during, and show, the abduction and torture of young gay Russians.
The Russian government for its part continues to deny that the kidnappings are even taking place, though at the same time the government issued a statement several months that appears to defend the neo-Nazi groups.
The organization, Occupy Pedophilia, has 30 affiliates across Russia, and a number of branches under similar names. It is headed by Maxim Martsinkevich, who awaits trial on an unrelated matter (the Russians refuse to charge him with any of the 1,500 kidnappings his group alleges to have committed).
Martsinkevich’s putative deputy in the organization, Ekaterina Zigunova (aka Logunova), remains free, as does her right-hand man, Daniil Konovalov, and every other co-conspirator. Mind you, most of the videos show the kidnappers’ faces, and their home towns, so it’s not terribly difficult finding out who they are. But they know that under Vladimir Putin, the Russian government has no intention of ever interfering with the neo-Nazi’s work, which conveniently complements Putin’s own.
To date, the pension funds of New York city and state continue to invest in VKontakte affiliate MegaFon.