State Department advises LGBT travelers avoid Russia; Russian government to monitor all communication at Olympic games

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The State Department has issued a new guidance warning LGBT travelers who may be headed to Russia. The warning indicates that the enforcement of these anti-LGBT laws may be higher than expected as are the consequences.

“Discrimination based on sexual orientation is widespread in Russia,” the statement reads. “Harassment, threats, and acts of violence targeting LGBT individuals have occurred.”

The warning also goes on to explain the State Duma’s law banning “the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors, which passed in June 2013. The consequences of violating these laws vary depending on citizenship. Russian citizens who are found guilty could face fines of up to 100,000 rubles, or 3,100 United States dollars. Foreign citizens risk up to 15 days in jail, as well as deportation.

According to the warning: “The law is vague as to what will be considered propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations. As a result, commentators have suggested that the law may make it a crime to promote LGBT equality in public.”

The State Department cautions US travelers due to the sharp increase of violence against the LGBT community since the law was passed. Incidents have included “entrapment and torture of young gay men by neo-Nazi gangs and the murder of multiple individuals due to their sexual orientation.”

The full statement can be read here.

The US State Department also warned anyone intending to travel to the 2014 Olympic games in Sochi, Russia.

“Business travelers should be particularly aware that trade secrets, negotiating positions, and other sensitive information may be taken and shared with competitors, counterparts, and/or Russian regulatory and legal entities,” the document read.

According to documents obtained by The Guardian from a team of Russian investigative journalists, the Black Sea resort of Sochi has been wired to allow Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) to monitor all visitor communications.

This scary step toward the ways of the Cold War could prove especially problematic for LGBT guests.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that competitors wearing pride symbols, such as rainbow pins, will not be arrested under the country’s homosexual propaganda laws. However, considering the FSB’s close monitoring of all communication, it is likely that those who attempt any kind of demonstration or rally could be at risk of a brutal intervention from Russian police.

The journalists who provided The Guardian with the telling documents, Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, say that Russian authorities will use a Big Brother-like program known as the System for Operative Investigative Activities (SORM), which, thanks to a Russian law passed in 1995, allows the FSB to monitor all telephone and internet communication. Furthermore, SORM is equipped with filters to monitor “sensitive” words and phrases in emails, webchats, and social media posts.

At Moscow’s Red Square on Sunday, October 6, Putin raised the Olympic flame ceremoniously before sending it on its tour around Russia. Putin then stated that the country has always maintained a spirit of “openness and friendship.” But the intense act of censorship via SORM shows otherwise.

By using deep packet inspection (DPI) technology, “Russian authorities will be able to identify, tag and follow all visitors to the Olympics, both Russian and foreign, who are discussing gay issues, and possibly planning to organize protests,” wrote Shaun Walker, journalist for The Guardian.

“Athletes may have particular political views, or they may be openly gay,” says Ron Deibert, a University of Toronto professor and director of Citizen Lab, which co-operated with the Sochi research. “I think given recent developments in Russia, we have to be worried about these issues.”

429Magazine

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