Moscow - Four Dutch citizens shooting a film about gays in Russia were detained and accused of spreading “gay propaganda” on Monday, in the first instance of a controversial new law being used against foreign citizens.
The four were accused by police of disseminating propaganda and were awaiting a court hearing after apparently missing their flight out of the northern city of Murmansk, where they were participating in a human rights forum.
“They were discussing human rights when suddenly the police and migration officers burst inside,” said Maria Kozlovskaya, a lawyer from the Saint Petersburg-based Russian LGBT network which is providing the suspects with legal support.
Although they were not formally put under arrest, the four were forced to spend six hours in a police station on Sunday without the presence of a translator or a Dutch representative, and were fined 3 000 rubles each (about $90) for violating visa rules, she added.
Police said they had violated a newly passed law that forbids spreading “gay propaganda” to minors, Kozlovskaya said, calling it the first time the Russian law had been applied to foreigners.
According to the police documents, the four activists were shooting a film “in the course of which propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” was distributed to a minor, she said, reading from the police document.
The Leninsky district court in Russia's northern city of Murmansk confirmed to AFP that two hearings for the group are scheduled for Monday.
According to the “gay propaganda” law, foreigners can face a fine, an administrative arrest of up to 15 days and deportation if the court decides they are guilty.
The Dutch Foreign Ministry on Monday said it was “concerned about the arrests” and is “doing everything possible to provide support to the group.”
“Instead of being on the plane we are still in Murmansk,” wrote one member of the party, Kris van der Veen, on his Facebook page. “It's about the documentary, gay propaganda.”
Last week van der Veen, who is a local Green party politician in the Dutch city of Groningen and who chairs an LGBT association, tweeted that he was making a documentary film in Russia about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last month signed the “gay propaganda” bill into law, a move that was strongly criticised by Western governments and rights organisations who fear it will contribute to rising homophobia and arbitrary persecution of gays.