KYIV, Ukraine, Feb. 9, 2017 – А Russian lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activist and another person have been missing since January 31, 2017, in the separatist-controlled area of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, and are feared to be victims of enforced disappearances, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch is concerned that the de facto authorities of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) have detained them and are refusing to acknowledge their detention.
Grey Violet, a Russian transgender person (also known as Oleg Vasilyev and Maria Shtern), and Victoria Miroshnichenko arrived in the DNR on January 31. They had planned to stage a public performance in Donetsk in support of the LGBT community and record it on video.
“It is distressing that no one has been able to find out where Grey Violet and Miroshnichenko are since they arrived in the DNR 10 days ago,” said Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Their sudden disappearance requires prompt and effective investigation.”
One of the activists’ friends in Kyiv told Human Rights Watch that Grey Violet was last in contact with her at about 11 a.m. on January 31. Other friends confirmed that it was the last day any of them had heard from Grey Violet and that the activist had stopped answering phone and online messages.
The friends said they received information that Grey Violet and Miroshnichenko were detained shortly after their arrival in the region, presumably by DNR security officials. A Russian media report mentioned that one of Grey Violet’s friends reached out to the DNR authorities to inquire about the activists’ whereabouts, but that an assistant to the DNR people’s council chairman said that neither the security services nor the police were holding them.
Human Rights Watch has not been able to get information about why the activists may have been detained, or whether they face any charges.
A 2016 report by Anti-Discrimination Center Memorial, a Russian rights group based in Saint Petersburg, says that the situation for the LGBT community in the separatist-held Luhansk and Donetsk regions has drastically deteriorated since the beginning of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine in 2014. In September 2014, the de facto authorities of the separatist-held Luhansk region said they were considering a death sentence for homosexuality.
Human Rights Watch research found that local security services in both separatist-held regions operate without any adherence to the rule of law, and are not subject to checks and balances. Anyone they detain is fully at their mercy, and the victim’s relatives have no one to turn to.
If Grey Violet and Miroshnichenko are in custody, the de facto DNR authorities should immediately reveal their whereabouts, Human Rights Watch said.
“The longer Grey Violet and Miroshnichenko are held without revealing their whereabouts, the more they are vulnerable to abuse,” Cooper said. “The de facto DNR authorities should immediately find out where they are and ensure their safety. If there are lawful grounds for holding them, guarantee their due process rights, including unimpeded access to legal counsel of their choice.”
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