The trial has now begun of a Russian artist and activist accused of disseminating pornography online. After first being detained a year and a half ago, Yulia Tsvetkova faces six years in prison for reportedly sharing drawings of vaginas on the social networking site VKontakte.
An outspoken supporter of LGBTQ+ and women’s rights, the 27-year-old founded an online group called Vagina Monologues with the aim of tackling the taboo and sexualisation of women’s bodies. By using this space to post colourful illustrations of female genitals, Tsvetkova is accused of contravening Russia’s infamous ‘gay propaganda’ law. This legislation – passed in 2013 for the would-be purposes of “protecting children from information advocating for a denial of traditional family values” – has been used indiscriminately by the Russian authorities as a means of persecuting any marginal groups or individuals deemed at odds with “family values”.
Eights months after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning same-sex marriages, Tsvetkova’s case is a frightening barometer of the increasingly puritanical political climate in Russia. Her prosecution represents a further terrifying rollback on free speech and the rights of the country’s women and LGTBQ+ community. Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, Natalia Zviagina, was reported in The Independent as saying, “During this ordeal, Yulia has spent time under house arrest and twice been subjected to extortionate fines under the so-called ‘gay propaganda’ law”.
The absurdity of the trial, apparently referred to by Amnesty as “Kafkaesque”, has been the subject of protests across Russia and an online petition demanding the charges be dropped has now exceeded 250,000 signatures. Speaking at the beginning of the Tsvetkova case, Russian artist Olya Avstreyh told Dazed: “A big media strike swept through the Russian internet with mottos ‘free Yulia’ and ‘female body is not pornography’. I think I never fully grasped the way female nudity is taboo in our society.”