An Uzbek migrant sits on his knees, hands clasped in his lap, resigned to a grim fate at the hands of the Russian neo-Nazi group “Occupy Pedophilia.” Captured for public torture, he has the deep misfortune of being a gay man in a country where homophobia has taken a violent turn.
“I’m sorry. I’m guilty,” he tells his captors.
“Do you agree that we should kill you?” one of them replies.
“I suppose that’s my fate,” he says.
From there, the psychological torment becomes physical. The group burns his clothes, puts a gun to his head, and forces the man to apologize for his sexuality. Then they handcuff him and force him to violate himself with a bottle as the camera closes in on his face, documenting his bloodcurdling cries.
The graphic encounter is one of the egregious crimes documented in a Human Rights Watch video released on Tuesday. The footage shows the malice, alarming violence, and dehumanizing discrimination that members of the LGBT community face in Russia at the hands of empowered thugs.
Russia, host of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi—which kicks off in just three days—has done little to follow the principle of nondiscrimination, a core provision of the Olympic Charter. While it is a member of the Council of Europe and party to multiple human rights treaties, the country hasn't faced any repercussions for failing to provide common protections for LGBT people, the advocates said.
“By turning a blind eye to hateful homophobic rhetoric and violence, Russian authorities are sending a dangerous message as the world is about to arrive on its doorstep for the Olympics that there is nothing wrong with attacks on gay people,” said Tanya Cooper, a Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Members of Occupy Pedophilia have attacked gay people in Russian towns under the guise of fighting pedophilia and protecting children since 2012. The group calls itself a “social movement.”
If it is a social movement, Occupy Pedophilia is an unabashedly criminal one, luring gay men via Internet to be verbally abused and physically assaulted by a herd of thugs, who videotape the ordeals. To further victims’ humiliation, the videos are posted online and shared via social media.
Russian authorities’ failure to act, coupled with threats of exile and officials’ homophobic comments blaming gay people for the nation’s low birth rate, have exposed LGBT people to violence and made them more vulnerable, advocates say. At the same time, it has emboldened attackers.
Last June, the Russian government passed a bill stigmatizing the gay community, prohibiting educating children on homosexuality, and prohibiting “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.” That has been interpreted to include any public expression of homosexuality.
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the bill into law, he has also said gay people were welcome in Sochi and would be “comfortable” there but asked them “to leave children in peace.” The implication that gays are somehow more prone to seducing kids, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, might explain Occupy Pedophilia's choice of a name.
“Russian officials have long denied that discrimination against LGBT people exists, including to the International Olympic Committee, yet the hostility and violence clearly have been intensifying,” Cooper said. “As Russia hosts the Olympics in this atmosphere of homophobic hatred, the government needs to take urgent measures to support the rights of LGBT people and protect them.”
Vicious homophobic remarks circulate throughout Russian media as well, particularly in state-controlled outlets, Human Rights Watch reports. One of the country’s leading talk show hosts—the deputy director of a government television and radio outlet—proposed to “burn or bury” the hearts of gay organ donors because they were “unfit to continue anyone’s life.”
The St. Petersburg–based Russian LGBT Network conducted a survey last year on discrimination that found more than half of the nearly 2,000 respondents had experienced psychological abuse and 15 percent had experienced physical violence. Of those who were attacked, only 6 percent contacted the police.
Just a month before the adoption of the anti-gay propaganda law, there were at least three murders allegedly motivated by homophobia, according to Human Rights Watch.
Gleb Latnik, a Russian LGBT advocate, says he was beaten because of his sexuality and activism. When he went to the police to file a claim, he found little sympathy or help.
“The officers just said, ‘That’s all right. You’re gay, so it’s normal that you were attacked. Why would you need to submit a complaint against someone?’ ” Latnik said in the video. “That’s how it goes.”