13 мая 2022

How hate crimes are committed against LGBT people in St Petersburg and how investigations into these crimes conclude

According to the Sexuality Research Laboratory, from 2010 to 2016 the media reported at least 363 cases of crime against LGBT people in Russia. Of these, 65 took place in St Petersburg. Hate crimes, as legal researchers and the LGBT community classify them, have also occurred in 2017. For example: in August, activists were doused with pepper spray after an LGBT rally.

At the same time, law enforcement agencies and courts are slow and ineffective at investigating such cases. Perpetrators of anti-LGBT violence are rarely punished. Bumaga tells the story of LGBT crime and punishment in Petersburg.

An LGBT picket on Palace Square, 30 July, 2016. Photo: Sergey Chernov

How Dmitry Tsilikin was killed and what happened at his trial

On March 27, 2016, journalist and culture columnist Dmitry Tsilikin had invited student Sergey Kosirev, 21, whom he had met online, to visit him. He treated his guest to tea and they spent some time in conversation. Then a fight broke out. Korisev stabbed the journalist at least 30 times with a knife, then stole his laptop, phone and 43,500 rubles. This is detailed in the case materials concerning the murder of Tsilikin, 54.

At the trial, Kosirev did not hide that his motive was hatred for gay people and called himself “the cleaner.” He was sentenced to 8.5 years imprisonment for murder and theft. The trial was held behind closed doors: the judge referred to the sexual inviolability and the sexual freedom of the accused.

A number of Tsilikin’s colleagues wrote about his death: Galina Artemenko, Dmitry Gubin, Fyodor Dubshan, Pyotr Pospelov, Elena Volgust and Dmitry Grozny. The majority skirted around Tsilikin’s homosexuality, something that Masha Gessen rebuked them for in her piece for the New York Times.

Tsilikin’s friends and colleagues launched a petition demanding that the crime be classified a hate crime. Seven thousand people signed the petition. The prosecutor’s office refused the request. We don’t know exactly whether the motive of hate was an aggravating circumstance at the sentencing.

How an LGBT activist lost vision in one eye and reached the ECHR

In June 2013, more people came along to the “Rainbow tea party” in LGBT project LaSky’s office than usual, due to the previous day’s “March against Hate.” Thanks to these “newcomers,” the event, which was normally private, was open to the public. Activist Dmitry Chizhevsky became bored quickly at the tea party and decided to leave after an hour.

Chizhevsky came across a young man and woman in the hallway. According to Chizhevsky’s memory, they looked like neo-Nazis or football fans and tried to hide their faces behind scarves and hoods. Before Chizhnevsky realized what was going on, an air gun was pointed at his eye and fired.

Activist Dmitrii Chizhevsky in an interview with “Russian Planet.”

“I felt the pain in my eye, then I heard the shot. The hallway there leads to a room, so I went around the corner to avoid being hit by other bullets. Apparently, one of them chased after me and shouted “where are you running to, ******?!” They apparently had a bat in their hand but I didn’t see anything: I laid down and tried to cover my eye. Then people started to run out of another room. The attackers apparently got scared and ran away on their own. That’s all I remember.”

After the attack at LaSky, Chizhevsky can only see through one eye. A case was launched under the article of hooliganism, but it was suspended in 2015 because of a failure to identify the attackers. Chizhevsky filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), claiming that the “motive of hatred towards LGBT people was in fact obvious to the national authorities” and their unwillingness to investigate anti-LGBT crimes speaks of their “official acceptance and acquiescence.” The ECHR accepted his complaint in August 2017.

What is a “hate crime”

LGBT activists and legal researchers identify the following types of offenses as hate crimes: hate crimes are offenses committed with prejudice against underprivileged social groups (based on nationality, religion, ideology, sexual orientation, social status). The Center for Independent Social Research (CISR) in its report provided has detailed information about hate crimes in Russia.

Excerpt from the report:

«Russian courts recognize hate toward LGBT people as a motive both explicitly («motivated by hatred toward a social group» or a prejudice that determined the choice of a victim) and through the admission of personal enmity of the defendant toward the victim.»

CISR distinguishes three types of such crimes: theft (extortion, robbery), battery and murder. Researchers found 267 court cases of hate crimes against LGBT people that went through first instance trials between 2010 and 2016. Only eight of them mention lesbians and two mention transsexuals. The other 257 crimes were committed against gay men.

Sexuality Lab reported 363 hate crimes between 2010 and 2016. They placed these crimes on the Map of Violence.

Attorney Sergey Golubok, in a conversation with Bumaga, suggested that the court may only recognize an offense as a hate crime if the investigation classifies it as such. According to Golubok, this typically does not happen.

«Personally, I don’t know a single crime motivated by hatred toward LGBT people that has been effectively investigated in Russia,» the attorney shared.

Researchers from CISR also noted an abrupt increase in crimes against LGBT people in 2013. It was the year when the government passed the law prohibiting the spreading of gay propaganda among minors (it was passed a year earlier in St. Petersburg). In 2011 and 2012, 32 and 33 of these crimes were reported respectively. In 2013, this number grew to 50. In 2015, it reached 65.

2013 also saw a rise in murders of LGBT people. Though these numbers in the U.S. and Russia were similar in 2010, by 2015, Russian numbers were 2.5 times higher.

The study’s author, legal sociologist Aleksandr Kondakov, told Bumaga that courts almost never classify crimes against LGBT people as hate crimes. He knows of two cases in Moscow Region when the court officially recognized hate as the motive; however, in most cases, it is either hushed up or only recognized informally (the defendant receives a longer sentence under more severe parts of the Criminal Code).

The expert believes that the police are not interested in the effective investigation of crimes against LGBT people either.

Aleksandr Kondakov, author of a study on hate crimes against LGBT people in Russia:

«The police do not publish or collect information about reports received from LGBT people, so there is no way to find out how many reports are filed in a year. Activists and victims often tell us that their reports are not always accepted. It’s lucky if a human rights organization helps to file such a report. Still more often a victim is left alone with their fears, alone and face to face with a likely homophobic police officer and, ultimately, alone with the offender.

For LGBT people in Russia, the protection of their health and life is typically a personal problem, as police and other government institutions don’t offer assistance and can even aggravate the situation.»

According to Kondakov, in his study he used information only from accessible sources, which is a mere tip of the iceberg and thus it is impossible to assess the actual situation due to the lack of official statistical data.

How homophobes attack women and what comes from these attacks

It is not only gay men who suffer from aggression in St. Petersburg. In October 2014, a man at a St. Petersburg metro station attacked two young women with homophobic shouts because of their unisex clothing (the media also wrote that the women were displaying their feelings for each other before the attack). Another passenger had filmed what happened on video.

One of the women was left with a broken nose, the other with a lesion of the temporomandibular bone. The victims filed a complaint to the police and six months later a criminal case was initiated. However, the authorities treated the beating as «domestic» and no hate motive was taken into account.

Kseniya Kirichenko, coordinator of the LGBT organisation Coming Out:

“The very fact that a criminal case was initiated is certainly to be celebrated. However, we cannot agree with the classification of the attack. It is treated as a domestic attack, while there are obvious signs pointing to a specific motive of the perpetrators’ actions: the motive of homophobic hatred.”

As Kseniya Mikhailova, the young womens’ lawyer, told Bumaga, the complainants themselves ultimately refused to continue the case because of the threats of violence they received.

How Money Is Extorted from Gay Men

In April 2016, Meduza special correspondent Daniil Turovsky wrote about a group of criminals extorting money from gay men. Turovsky’s report featured an apartment at 224 Moskovsky Avenue. Young men recalled being invited to this apartment for a date through the gay dating app Hornet.

Once there, the victims were caught in a «cordon» of people claiming that the date was scheduled with a minor. This was filmed on video, and the extortionists demanded money if the victim didn’t want to see it be distributed. The extortion was accompanied by beatings. In a similar episode, the attackers introduced themselves to the victim as a public organization called “Kindness.” A source close to the Department of Internal Affairs told Meduza that the group has been active since 2015 and consists of about 20 people from 18 to 45 years old.

One of the young men subjected to extortion told Meduza that he had filed a police report but would not divulge the progress of the investigation. He also found ten more similar victims: according to him, only one of the people he interviewed decided to file a police report. According to Meduza, at the time the piece was written there were more materials and interviews with witnesses being gathered.

What happened at the last LGBT pride festival in St. Petersburg?

Attacks on LGBT people often occur during street demonstrations. This was the case during rallies on the Field of Mars in 2012 and 2013 as well as during Kirill Kalugin’s single picket protests in 2013 and 2014 (LGBT Pride has been held in St. Petersburg annually since 2010, despite periodic disagreement with governor’s office).

On 12 August, 2017 another attack on activists occurred following the pride events. At the end of the demonstration, a group of young people in tracksuits pepper-sprayed activists while they were on their way to the metro. Some of the victims were taken away in an ambulance. Later, they were diagnosed with chemical burns. Journalists from Current Time, Fontanka correspondent Ksenia Klochkova and photographer David Frenkel were also injured in the attack.

Despite the police presence near the scene of the attack (the police kept watch during the LGBT rally), the provocateurs managed to escape. This was the reason the deputies of the Legislative Assembly of Saint Petersburg complained to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Fontanka suggested that members of right-wing group Straight Edge (or sXe) were behind the attack. A video of the attack was shared on their group page on VK, a Russian social media site, with a caption stating that the group of youths had considered the march attempted rape and were acting in self-defense “having seen the sexual desire in the eyes of the LGBT marchers.” The post was deleted from the page, but a screenshot was preserved. The publication also identified two of the attackers.

Three days later, the police opened a criminal case under Paragraph 2 of Article 116 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“Battery or other violent acts that cause physical pain and are committed out of hooliganism, as well as based on political, ideological, racial, national or religious hatred or enmity»). After that, accusations against journalists who “had decided to promote themselves” appeared on the Straight Edge group page.

Alexander Kondakov’s comment was added to the text after its initial publication.

We would like to express our sincere appreciation to Matt Quinlan and Yulia Polonskaya for translating the article.

Cover photo: David Frenkel

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