Russia's discriminatory laws on sexual orientation have encouraged harassment and attacks against gay people that are rarely prosecuted, according to a report released by Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch says a growing number of Russian lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBTs) were attacked because of last year's “gay propaganda” law.
In an 85-page report released Monday, the New York-based rights group details numerous incidents of violence and harassment, including beatings, abductions, and public humiliations.
It says radical nationalist groups are luring gay men and teenagers into fake dates where they are humiliated on video. The report said hundreds of such videos have been posted online.
Human Rights Watch says the vague law, which bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors,” effectively legalizes the discrimination.
The law also is a cheap tactic by politicians to garner public support, according to the group's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, Rachel Denber.
“I think it’s an attempt to try to mobilize Russian society in favor of the Kremlin. I think it’s also an attempt to polarize Russian society," said Denber. "And, I think it’s part of this effort to paint, or to play on or exploit sentiment that people might have and to... to portray gay people as some sort of foreign, Western implant.”
Russian authorities deny they support discrimination based on sexual orientation and portray the law as protecting traditional values against Western liberal decadence.
But even Russia's President Vladimir Putin sparked outcries when he tied homosexuality to pedophilia in comments leading up to last year's winter Olympics in Sochi.
Human Rights Watch says Russian authorities are failing in their duty to protect the rights of sexual minorities. Despite Russian laws against hate crimes, the report says only three out of 44 cases where victims filed police reports resulted in prosecutions.
The report's release comes just two days after a conservative St. Petersburg lawmaker, Vitaly Milonov, led a police raid on a popular gay club for allegedly harboring minors.
Kseniya Kirichenko, with the LGBT support group “Coming Out” based in St. Petersburg, said, “So, it's not the first time when he tried to use minors. Because, before he also tried to use minors in 'Side by Side' film festival [a yearly LGBT film festival] in St. Petersburg. It was like the same situation."
Kirichenko said authorities are looking to smear homosexuals after recent uproars over teachers being fired for their sexual orientation.
Despite the harassment, she said St. Petersburg has one of Russia's strongest gay communities. Kirichenko said organizations like hers offer legal and psychological assistance that is sorely lacking in many other cities.