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Some 20 people protested Russia's troubling record on gay rights in front of Moscow's embassy in Washington.
WASHINGTON -- Activists, Russian-Americans, and other concerned citizens held small demonstrations in front of Russia's missions in Washington and New York on July 31 to protest the country's rapidly deteriorating record on gay rights.

About 20 people rallied in front of Moscow's embassy in Washington, with some chanting, "Gay rights! Human rights!" over a megaphone in the direction of the imposing, gray edifice.

Others waved rainbow flags and held posters documenting the recent uptick in homophobic attacks in Russia.

One protester held a sign that read, "Russian state policy: A good gay is a dead gay."

The demonstration was organized in part by the Washington-based Spectrum Human Rights group, which recently helped publicize a spate of extreme gay bullying in Russia's Sverdlovsk region.

The videos of young gay men apparently being taunted with phallic sex toys, threatened with axes, and being made to drink urine have made headlines and evoked outrage in the United States.

The ultranationalists behind the bullying are part of a nationwide movement in Russia and have acted with impunity.

WATCH: Protesters in front of the Russian Consulate in New York City dump Russian vodka and call for a boycott of the 2014 Olympics due to Russia's anti-gay crackdown.
Gay Activists Dump Russian Vodka in NYC
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Russian-American Larry Poltavtsev, the president of the Spectrum Human Rights, said he was protesting not only against abuses in Russia, but what he described as a weak response from the West.

"Why are we, as Americans, and Europeans as well, sort of providing white-glove treatment to Mr. Putin [while] he successfully humiliates and oppresses his own population? Maybe there are some underlying political reasons and global interests -- I don't know. But that sounds wrong," he said. "Silence is indeed death right now."

'Homosexual Propaganda'

In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a ban on "homosexual propaganda" that was passed unanimously by the State Duma.

The United States and the European Union have expressed concern at the measure. Activists say it not only sanctions, but promotes, the country's already widespread homophobia.

Putin maintains that homosexuals receive equal treatment in Russia.

Anthony Doubek, a young transgender man, said he came to the Washington protest to stand with "people like me who are fearing for their lives."

"I had such a hard time coming out, I can't even imagine what it would be like if your family wasn't supportive -- or if your government wasn't supportive. So to me, I'm here fighting for those who weren't as lucky as I was," he said.

Doubek was one of several demonstrators who wore black-and-white-striped prison uniforms with pink triangles sewn on. They also wore gold medals around their necks.

The outfits, organizer Poltavtsev explained, were meant to mimic those worn by gay prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. The medals were a reference to the 2014 Winter Olympics that will be held in Sochi, Russia.

"The International Olympic Committee issued a statement that they received assurances from the highest sources in Russia that there will be no LGBT discrimination during the Olympic Games," Poltavtsev noted. "Do they read history? Hitler said the same thing back in 1936 that during the Olympics there will be no persecution of Jews!"

Protesters pour Russian vodka into the streets of New York on July 31.
Protesters pour Russian vodka into the streets of New York on July 31.

As in Washington, protesters in front of Moscow's consulate in New York City also called for a boycott of the 2014 Olympics due to Russia's antigay crackdown.

More than 60 people participated, including gay asylum-seekers and people who said they had been attacked during raids on gay clubs in Russia.

The demonstrators emptied bottles of Russian vodka into the streets in protest, with some chanting, "We are here, we are queer, and we drink only beer!"


Wth contributions from RFE/RL Russian Service's Olga Loginova in New York
Rights activists fear that many of the civil liberties women have gained in Afghanistan over the past decade or so could soon be eroded. (file photo)
Authorities in the northwestern Afghan province of Badghis have arrested a local cleric accused of killing a woman for allegedly having an affair with her male cousin.

Badghis police chief, Sharafuddin Sharaf, told Radio Free Afghanistan over the phone that local security forces arrested Mullah Abdul Ghafoor on July 30 and handed him over to judicial officials in the province. The cleric had been in hiding since April.

Sharaf added that Ghafoor had issued an edict or fatwa for the women's execution on the grounds that she had apparently had an "illicit affair" with a man. The killing was carried out on April 22 when the 20-year-old woman, known as Halima, was shot dead by her father in front of more than 200 inhabitants of the village of Kookchaeel in the Aabkamari district.

"The fatwa was an illegal act," said Sharaf. "Even if that woman was guilty, she should have been tried based on Afghan Islamic law and its justice system. It was an unjust act because it was an extra-judicial trial conducted without the presence of any eye-witnesses."

Badghis Governor Ahmadullah Alizai also condemned the fatwa.

"This is cruelty and we are trying to arrest those who set-up their own courts and kill women," he said. "We have to implement stringent laws on them."

Sharafuddin Sharaf told Radio Free Asia that Halima, the mother of two children, was accused of running away with her male cousin while her husband was in Iran and returned to her family after 10 days.

Sharaf added that Halima's father and her cousin are now on the run and their whereabouts remain unknown.

In a report published on April 30, Amnesty International said: "The public killing of a woman in Afghanistan is further proof that the authorities are still failing to tackle the shocking levels of gender-based violence in the country."

According to the report, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission registered more than 4,000 cases of violence against women from 21 March to 21 October 2012, which shows a 28 percent rise in the level of women's rights abuses in the country compared with the same period in 2011.

By way of a presidential decree in 2009, Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a law on the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW), which criminalizes rape, child marriage, forced marriage, and other activities that threaten females.

However, the legislation was opposed by a number of hard-line Afghan lawmakers in May and has not yet been approved.

Conservative members of the Afghan parliament argued that some articles of the EVAW, including one stating that the victims of such violence should be given shelter at a safe house, are against Shari'a Law.

Advocates of the EVAW say that it offers "sanctuary for Afghan women" and that it should be approved to safeguard women's rights in the country.

It was common practice during the Taliban regime in Afghanistan for women to be stoned to death on charges of committing adultery or having seemingly illicit affairs with men.

Now, many women in the country are concerned that any Taliban resurgence could trample on the hard-won rights they have gained under the U.S.-backed Afghan administration that has governed the country for nearly 12 years.

-- Mustafa Sarwar

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