A lesbian artist has spent months under house arrest and is facing fines and six years jail, just for publishing innocent images in Russia.
Yulja Tsvetkova faces three separate trials. Under the first, Russia has charged her with ‘pornography’, with a penalty of up to six years in prison. Moreover, she also faces two trials for LGBT+ ‘propaganda’ – with a fine of 50 million rubles (€600 $625) for each one.
But despite all this, Tsvetkova told GSN that she would continue her artistic work and fight for LGBT+ people.
‘I never thought about quitting’
In the pornography case, Tsvetkova posted a drawing of a vagina in a social media page about body positivity. The page features many figurative and artistic images of vaginas. They wouldn’t look out of place in an art gallery and certainly aren’t pornographic.
In addition, the 26-year-old published articles on queer culture, supporting LGBT+ youth and discrimination for LGBT+ people in Russia on a social media group. That earned her one charge of distributing LGBT+ ‘propaganda’.
The other ‘propaganda’ charge came after Tsvetkova drew an illustration of a lesbian and gay couple with kids.
She created the image in August after hearing about a male couple with adopted children. While they weren’t activists or out, child protection services found the children had two dads and police wanted to take them away.
Luckily, the family was able to flee and now lives safely abroad.
But in November the state charged her.
Tsvetkova tells GSN that she hadn’t imagined that just publishing pictures can lead to her facing criminal accusations.
She explains: ‘I had unwanted attention from the police for nearly a year before the arrest. But I never thought about quitting what I was doing.
‘I still don’t. Why? Because of what I was doing and speaking up against. Russia is a very homophobic, very sexist country, and there is a great work to be done to challenge that, still.’
‘Less than 1% “not guilty” court decisions’
Tsvetkova lives in the city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, in the far east of Russia, near the Pacific Ocean.
As a result of the charges she has faced months of house arrest. She describes it as:
‘You sit at home and receive visits from police and messages of threats from homophobes.
‘Sometimes it was unbearable to stay at one please, or very scary. Sometimes a bit like a retreat, when you can read and sleep as much as you like.’
She says she sometimes feels scared, other times brave.
In particular, she’s been threatened by haters who call themselves ‘Saw’ after the horror film. They regularly make lists of LGBT+ activists in Russia they want to kill or maim. And at least one woman on the Saw list has been murdered.
Moreover, she is not optimistic for her trial which may be in May or June.
She explains: ‘In Russia there is less than 1% “not guilty” court decisions. So I know my chances and they are not high.
However, her best chance may be an international petition by LGBT+ group All Out. You can sign it here.
She adds: ‘I’ve seen how the campaign already changed the way the police treated me. So I want to believe that a miracle can happen. If anything, the campaign helps me to remember that I am not alone. And that helps to go through everything.’
Meanwhile, she is determined to continue her activism:
‘It will take me a long time to reboot, and restart my work. But I will continue to speak up for diversity and human rights, no matter what.’
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Author: Tris Reid-Smith