Russia: Feminist activist on trial on pornography charges


MOSCOW — A Russian court on Monday opened the trial of a feminist activist and artist charged with disseminating pornography after she shared artwork depicting female anatomy online — a case in line with the Kremlin’s conservative stance promoting “traditional family values” that has been widely seen as controversial and elicited international outrage.

Yulia Tsvetkova, 27, from the far-eastern city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, faces up to six years in prison on charges reportedly related to her group on the popular social network VKontakte where colorful, stylized drawings of vaginas were posted. Tsvetkova is not allowed to give details of accusations against her.

The first hearing in the Komsomolsk-on-Amur court on Monday comes a year and a half after Tsvetkova was first detained, and eight months after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed constitutional amendments that outlawed same-sex marriage and tasked the government with “preserving traditional family values.”

Tsvetkova’s lawyer, Irina Ruchko, told reporters after the hearing that Tsvetkova maintains her innocence and that her defense team intends to prove it in court.

Tsvetkova ran a children’s theater and was a vocal advocate of feminism and LGBT rights. She founded an online group, called Vagina Monologues, encouraging followers to fight stigma and taboo surrounding the female body, and posted other people’s art in it.

Amnesty International last week called the case, which is being heard behind closed doors, “Kafkaesque absurdity” and urged Russian authorities to drop all charges against the activist who was merely “freely expressing her views through art.”

Tsvetkova was detained in November 2019 and spent the next four months under house arrest. Her home was raided, as well as her mother’s education studio for children.

The activist was fined twice for violating Russia’s law against disseminating gay “propaganda” to minors. The court ordered Tsvetkova to pay a fine of 50,000 rubles ($780) in December 2019 for running an LGBT-themed online group, and 75,000 rubles ($1,060) more in July 2020 for a drawing in support of LGBT families. The second fine was later decreased to 50,000 rubles.

Many public figures have spoken out in her support, including Russian state TV veteran Vladimir Pozner. Activists across Russia protested her prosecution, artists dedicated performances to her, and an online petition demanding to drop the charges gathered over 250,000 signatures.

The European Union’s delegation to Russia said in a tweet last week that the bloc “is closely following” the case against Tsvetkova and that “apparently, her persecution is related to her public position as an LGBT activist.” The delegation called on Russian authorities to stop the prosecution of the activist.

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