A teenager has been prosecuted under Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” laws for allegedly posting photos of shirtless men on Facebook.
On Wednesday, Maxim Neverov was found guilty of violating the 2013 law prohibiting the spread of information on “nontraditional sexual relations” to minors — despite being a minor himself. The 16-year-old, a student in the south central town of Biysk, was fined 50,000 rubles (or around $750 U.S. dollars).
In a July report, the Commission on Minors and the Protection of Minors’ Rights claimed Neverov posted photos of “young men” with “partly nude body parts” on the popular social networking website VKontakte.
The commission concluded these photos “had the characteristics of propaganda of homosexual relations.”
However, the court never proved that Neverov posted the scantily clad photographs at the center of the case. After he was detained by authorities earlier this year, the teenager refused to answer questions. Police further denied Neverov access to a lawyer, as the Russian LGBTQ Network reported.
The queer and trans advocacy group represented his case in court.
But attorneys for Neverov say the trial was just a pretense to punish the youth for his activism. In May, the student took part in a “Gays or Putin” protest against the Kremlin’s role in persecuting LGBTQ people. Since the propaganda law was passed five years ago, the number of hate crimes against queer and trans individuals in Russia has doubled.
According to the Russian LGBTQ Network, Neverov submitted a dozen applications with local authorities to hold the demonstration — all of which were refused. The display was controversial enough that it garnered the attention of the State Duma that drafted the propaganda law.
Neverov did not give testimony during the commission’s trial. Attorney Artem Lapov claimed the proceedings were delayed following “numerous procedural violations,” and his legal team is planning an appeal.
The commission declined to publicly disclose its reasoning for the guilty verdict.
Although earlier news reports claimed Neverov is the first person under the age of 18 targeted under the “propaganda” law, it has been frequently employed to clamp down on LGBTQ expression in Russia. Last year, HIV/AIDS activist Evdokia Romanova was fined after posting links to news articles on Facebook.