Human Rights Watch (HRW) has sharply criticized Russia for opening a criminal probe into the alleged sexual assault of children who participated in a show where they ask a gay man questions about his life.
Russian authorities have in the past used the so-called gay-propaganda law to “stifle LGBT-friendly information,” HRW said in a statement on November 6.
“Now, investigators are equating a talk show interview by children as ‘sexual assault of children,’” a crime punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment under Russian law, the New York-based watchdog said.
“This madness has to stop,” it added.
In a video series by the Russian YouTube channel Real Talk, several children individually meet people with different life experiences and ask them questions.
On November 2, Moscow investigators confirmed they had opened a criminal case into “sexual assault of minors” after the channel posted a video featuring a gay man talking to children about his life.
In the video, the 21-year-old male explains in one-on-one conversations how and when he discovered his sexual orientation, shares his hope to eventually have kids, talks about his family and friends, and about the way people treat him.
The chat with the children, sat in a chair across from the man while asking him questions, did not include any discussion of sex or physical intimacy. Parents of the children are present during filming, though not shown on screen.
The state media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, has blocked the video and the owners deleted their YouTube account.
The series has also featured people of different races, generations, and from different backgrounds from the children.
Valentina Dekhtyarenko of the Pravozashchity Otkrytki human rights organization has said that the parents of the children in the video had no complaints.
The mothers of at least two of the children were threatened by investigators with the loss of their parental rights, she added.
In June 2013, President Vladimir Putin signed the so-called gay-propaganda law, which has been widely criticized by rights activists in Russia and abroad. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled the law discriminates against gays.