Russian authorities on Sunday arrested four Dutch LGBT rights advocates for violating the country’s anti-gay propaganda law.
The Russian online newspaper Lenta reported that police detained the activists at a summer camp in the city of Murmansk in the northwestern part of the country during a human rights seminar in which a local LGBT advocacy group was participating. The publication said Kris van der Veen, president of LGBT Groningen, a Dutch LGBT advocacy organization, gave a lecture on gay rights.
Rolf Jurjens of LGBT Groningen confirmed to the Washington Blade from the Netherlands that authorities had arrested van der Veen in Murmansk on Sunday.
Jurjens said van der Veen and the three other Dutch LGBT rights advocates had traveled to the city to film a documentary about gay life in Russia. Local media reports indicate van der Veen interviewed a 17-year-old teenager before authorities took him and the three other activists into custody.
The four activists had been scheduled to appear in a Murmansk court earlier on Monday, but authorities have released them from custody.
Officials reportedly fined them 3,000 rubles ($92.80.)
They are also expected to eventually return to the Netherlands.
“We are still in Murmansk,” van der Veen wrote on his Facebook page in Dutch earlier on Monday. “It is about the documentary, gay propaganda. It is good, but it’s still very vague what’s next.”
Van der Veen and the three other LGBT Groningen members are the first foreigners charged under the “promotion of homosexuality” to minors ban that President Vladimir Putin signed into law in June.
Putin earlier this month signed a second bill that prohibits same-sex couples from other countries from adopting Russian children.
These two laws came into effect against the backdrop of increasing anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in Russia.
Two men in the southern Russia city of Volgograd and on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the country’s Far East have been killed during what local authorities have described as anti-gay attacks in recent months.
Police in St. Petersburg on June 29 arrested 40 LGBT activists and a handful of nationalists who challenged them during a gay rights rally. Authorities in the Russian capital on May 24 arrested 30 LGBT rights advocates who tried to stage a Pride celebration outside Moscow City Hall.
Members of Coming Out, a Russian LGBT advocacy group in St. Petersburg, will go on trial on Thursday under the country’s “foreign agent” law that came into effect last fall.
The U.S. State Department, the European Union and various human rights organizations have repeatedly criticized Russian lawmakers and Putin over their opposition to LGBT rights in the country. Actor Harvey Fierstein is among the growing number of those who have called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics scheduled to take place in Sochi in February.
“American and world leaders must speak out against Mr. Putin’s attacks and the violence they foster,” the actor and playwright wrote in an op-ed the New York Times published on July 21. “The Olympic Committee must demand the retraction of these laws under threat of boycott.”
“The United States places great importance on the protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender persons around the world,” State Department spokesperson Noel Clay told the Blade in a statement on Monday. “We call on Russia to uphold its international commitments regarding freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.”
Jasmine Heiss of Amnesty International also criticized Russian authorities over the Dutch activists’ arrest.
“Ultimately, Amnesty International sees the legislation as an affront to free expression and an attack on minority rights, whether applied to Russian citizens or foreign tourists in Russia,” she said. “As the arrests showed, the legislation represents government sponsored intolerance and violates the prohibition of discrimination.”