Evdokia Romanova: On the court for Facebook posts!

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I’ve first met Evdokia Romanova at the 2nd “The Global Human Rights Forums” conference in May. She was the guest of “Social Margin Center” and spoke about gender inequality in Russia. This young and extremely brave woman has a long-standing activist career behind her, in Russia but also worldwide. She is currently working in the regional LGBT movement “Avers” from Samara, which is, as stated in an interview given to our alumni Ivana Ćetković after the conference, extremely unsafe due to the social position of the LGBT population in Russia. On that occasion she said: “As long as we are hidden, everything is OK”. Two months later, this statement turned out to be horrifyingly true.

When Evdokia was accused of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations in front of minors” at the end of July, everything changed for her. Local media has published her name and photos, and since that moment death threats became part of her everyday life. As she told the “Now this her” portal, she does not feel safe anywhere any more, and the comments she is facing to are “whether she should be killed with a knife or burned”. Instead of giving up, she is even more determined to share her story and show the world, on a personal example, what the real situation in Russia is and what human rights activists face to everyday.

In my perception the issue of sexism and homophobia are closely related, as gay people, in the majority of cases, are strongly stigmatized for having “feminine characteristics”

At the beginning, Evdokia was confused by the fact that most of the Russian laws (like LGBT propaganda, decriminalization of domestic violence, etc.) are called “Putin’s Laws” in our media.
– Very interesting, as Putin precisely has not so much to do with this law. He is more focused on international work and do not do so much on the national level. The law designers are our ultra-conservative politicians Elena Mizulina and Vitaliy Milonov. Unfortunately, those politicians have done a lot for making our legislation system more conservative.

These two laws together indicate the connection between sexism and homophobia that is dominant in Russian society. What is your attitude about this?–  In my perception the issue of sexism and homophobia are closely related, as gay people, in the majority of cases, are strongly stigmatized for having “feminine characteristics”, which is a highly important element of why the stigma towards gay people is formed. Of course we shall not forget about intersectionality of such issue as stigma. Having previous experience of working with various marginalized groups, I personally feel uncomfortable when people argue the strong difference between the stigmatized attitudes towards the marginalized groups. Hate speech and hate crime have a similar motivation to all cases of violence, it doesn’t matter whether the case of violence is made towards a gay person or a refugee.  

Your work is focused on sexism and homophobia, so it’s not surprising that you are “targeted”. What is the basis of the charge against you?
–  We have still not precisely researched the case materials, but the accusation against me is formed on the administrative penalty law 6.21 “Propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships in front of the minors”. The accusations are based on some of my facebook posts from 2015, 2016 and mostly on my membership in the global human rights organization Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights. Since I am still not sure regarding the nature of accusations, they shall be clearer when my lawyer will access the case materials. I cannot at this point provide more information regarding the case. 

The law according to which “propaganda in front of a minor” refers to facebook posts that you share with your friends on a private facebook account seems quite confusing. In what way is the “propaganda” actually defined by law?
– Really not sure. It’s unclear to everybody. From the very beginning the law had a very unclear statement. Lawyers in Russia still struggle to understand it, as the whole meaning of the word propaganda is unclear. But apparently, as we see from my case, you may accuse somebody of propaganda based on sharing your opinion regarding a case, for instance regarding the legalization of a gay marriage in Ireland, where abortion still remains a forbidden topic.

Is it actually the violation of your privacy and freedom of expression?
– Yes, I think so.                         

What is the penalty for violation of this law?
– Administrative fine for up to 100 000 rubles. 

Evdokia Romanova with Sasha Keiner and Sara Fusco at the second “Global Human Rights Forums” conference in Belgrade
© 2017 ph: vladimir opsenica

Do you have any information about how many people have been accused on this? Is it common that police read someone’s facebook profile and make the accusation?
– You’d better talk to the people who are more aware of this topic. Since I have not been living in Russia for the past three years, I was not following the news regarding this legislation. 

Do you think that this type of accusations against activists are form of threatening in order to keep you silent, as “Avers” stated in their announcement?
– I am not sure, as I am cannot know what were thinking the people who have made their charges and created the case against me. But it may be so.

However, situations like this surely leave a trace and cause the feeling that everything we do to make society better is hopeless and meaningless. I believe that all of us activists sometimes felt that way. Still, you remained strong. What is your message to all our colleagues around the world, how to maintain motivation?
– I do not feel strong at the particular moment. The only message I can give to others is to not be afraid to ask for support if needed.

What are the next steps that you will take and what can we do, as international activist, to support you and other people affected by this law?
– My court is taking place on the 18th of September; so far this is the next step on the case.  Organizations worldwide may express their support by sending support letter to me, so I can present it in the court, stating that I have a support from the international community. I have a sample of the letter.

We hope for the good news from Evdokia after the court and believe that the unfounded allegations against her will be rejected. All organizations that want to support her – please contact us via the official e-mail address and we will give you more information how you can do that. Support is important!

 

Interviewed by Nemanja Marinović

 

The 3rd Global Human Rights Forum will be held in Belgrade 26-28 October 2017
The call for applicants and speakers is open.

“The Global Human Rights Forums” conference