LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

Meet these LGBTI activists facing trial for their peaceful defence of human rights

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Turkey
Poland
Russia
freedom of assembly
freedom of expression
activism

In the past months, LGBTI people have been criminally persecuted for their activism in different parts of Europe and Central Asia. In today’s blog, we bring you three astonishing cases of brave LGBTI activists who could face prison time because they peacefully stood up for human rights.


In April 2019, three activists distributed posters of the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo in the streets of Plock, Poland, and were later accused of “offending religious beliefs”. A month later, in May 2019 in Ankara, Turkey, students and teachers gathered together in the campus of the Middle East Technical University (METU) to celebrate Pride and a criminal case was taken against 19 of them. In November of the same year, in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, a Russian activist and artist was investigated for her body positivity drawings and put under house arrest for four months. All of these LGBTI activists are waiting for a new hearing in their trials. If found guilty, they all could face prison time.

Freedom of expression and assembly are fundamental rights that must be protected. LGBTI rights are human rights and when the LGBTI community is persecuted, everyone’s freedoms are put into question. Read on to find out more about the cases of these courageous LGBTI activists and share this blog so their stories are heard everywhere.

Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna (Poland)

Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna were accused of “offending religious beliefs” for pasting posters in public areas around the city of Plock on 29 April 2019. The posters depicted the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo, symbolic of the LGBTI flag. The authorities opened an initial investigation against Elżbieta in May 2019 and in July 2020, they officially accused the three women of having “publicly insulted an object of religious worship in the form of this image which offended the religious feelings of others”. After two postponements, their next hearing will be on 17 February this year. Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna face up to two years in prison if found guilty for their peaceful activism.

Read more about Elżbieta, Anna and Joanna’s persecution here:

Poland: All charges against LGBTI rights defenders charged for peaceful activism must be dropped, say Human Rights NGOs

Poland: Drop charges against women rights defenders

The METU 19 (Turkey)

In May 2019, 19 LGBTI rights defenders were detained while exercising their freedom to assembly at a Pride march at the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara. The METU administration had unlawfully banned Pride and contacted the police to intervene, who used excessive force to disperse the students after the peaceful Pride march began. People were beaten and pushed up against trees.

The trial of the METU 19 has been postponed several times, infringing the right of the activists to a fair hearing — the latest postponement to 30 April this year means that the defendants will have been under pressure for almost two years. If found guilty, the METU 19 ccould each spend three years in prison.

Read more about the trials of the METU 19 here:

Turkish court postpones trial of 19 Pride attendees, infringing their right to fair judicial process

Turkey’s shocking Pride March trial: The story so far

Yulia Tsvetkova (Russia)

By the end of 2018, at the age of 25, Yulia Tsvetkova had already made some of her dreams come true: opening a theatre for kids, launching a sex-ed project for teenagers, and creating feminist resources online. Less than two years later, Yulia is facing up to six years in prison, is receiving death threats, and cannot leave her town in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in Russia’s Far East.

On 20 November 2019, Yulia was arrested and put under investigation for “distribution of pornography”. In her “A woman is not a doll” series, she drew pictures of women accompanied by affirmations like: “Living women have body fat, and that’s normal;” “Living women get wrinkles and grey hairs, and that’s normal;” and “Living women have muscles, and that’s normal”. She was under house arrest for four months and was fined twice for “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”. On 12 January 2021, she was again charged with ‘distribution of pornography’ in connection with online dissemination of her feminist drawings. She is still waiting for trial, if she’s found guilty she may spend six years in prison.

Read more about the persecution of Yulia here:

How you can help persecuted Russian LGBT+ activist, Yulia Tsvetkova

The more people who know about the legal persecution of peaceful activists and make noise about it, the more the authorities in their respective countries will be aware that the world is watching. Share this blog now, or share the links above, so that the persecution of Elżbieta, Anna, Joanna, Yulia and the #METU19 is seen. #activismfreedom