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April 16, 2014

Russian Authorities Target LGBT Rights Organization

Washington, DC -  Human Rights First today expressed alarm over reports that Russian authorities have targeted Oleg Kluenkov, a prominent human rights defender from the Arkhangelsk LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights organization Rakurs, for his international work promoting LGBT rights in Russia. Kluenkov is now facing disciplinary action for state security service (FSB) findings related to a trip he took in 2013 to meet with citizens of Arkhangelsk’s sister city, Portland, Maine and U.S. government officials in Washington, D.C. Human Rights First was among the organizations that worked to amplify Kluenkov's message during that trip. 

“We were alarmed to learn that Oleg may be forced out of his teaching position for promoting the rights of Russia's LGBT community as part of Arkhangelsk's Sister City delegation,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “We urge the city government of Portland, Maine along with the appropriate federal officials to immediately condemn the actions targeting Oleg and to offer support and assistance to the members of Rakurs and Arkhangelsk’s LGBT community.  It is crucial that the United States continue to support and protect Russian human rights defenders, who often face persecution and discrimination for their work promoting equality.”

This week, members of the FSB entered Kluenkov's office with the intent of seizing Kluenkov’s personal documents related to his work as a professor at a regional university. The goal of the operation was to ascertain whether he was teaching during a period of two weeks in the fall of last year when Kluenkov traveled to the United States to meet with members of Congress, the State Department, Portland government officials, human rights activists, and the local LGBT community. Following the raid, the Director of the university informed Kluenkov that the FSB and a local prosecutor were demanding disciplinary action for the trip. Citing violations of the Labour Code concerning absenteeism and talking about the issue with fellow employees, the university buckled to the pressure of the authorities and asked for Kluenkov's resignation. Kluenkov has stated that he will under no circumstances agree to resign from his post as Assistant Professor of Philosophy.

While in Portland last fall, Kluenkov spoke with activists and the media about his work within Arkhangelsk, both personally and as member of Rakurs. The trip was designed to bring increased attention to Russia’s discriminatory anti-propaganda law that targets LGBT Russians. The resulting media attention, which made its way across the Atlantic, is likely the reason for Kluenkov’s persecution and impending unemployment. Kluenkov was also recently detained and questioned by the FSB at the airport during a March trip to Munich.

Human Rights First recently received reports of other activists being targeted by Russian authorities, and the organization is concerned that Kluenkov's experience is part of a larger trend of increased harassment of LGBT activists.  Human Rights First  continues to urge the U.S. government to press Russian officials to suspend its insidious anti-propaganda law, end the systematic persecution of civil society, and prevent the spread of Russian-style anti-“propaganda” laws in the surrounding region.

For more information or to speak with Gaylord, please contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at margolisme@humanrightsfirst.org or 212-845-5269.