The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Yulia Tsvetkova
Feminist artist Yulia Tsvetkova from Komsomolsk-on-Amur was accused of illegally producing and distributing pornographic materials on the Internet (Paragraph “b”, Part 3 of Article 242 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, punishable by up to six years of prison). The charges were connected to her role as an administrator of a feminist body-positive online page ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ which has published abstract depictions of female sexual organs and items similar to those either drawn by Tsvetkova or posted earlier on the Internet with the aim of removing the taboo surrounding female physiology. Tsvetkova has been under house arrest since November 23, 2019.
The criminal investigation was initiated based on a complaint by a homophobic activist Timur Bulatov, who has a past criminal record. Bulatov, according to statements that he has made, conducts a ‘moral jihad’ against LGBT people, and those who treat them with tolerance, by making complaints to law enforcement agencies.
We believe that the criminal prosecution of Julia Tsvetkova was caused by her social activities and an active feminist position. She promotes her views as an activist and a contemporary artist via absolutely legal methods. At the same time, her persecution fits into the context of a government campaign of the ‘protection of traditional values,’ used, among other things, to secure the regime’s hold on political power in Russia. The criminal prosecution of Tsvetkova was preceded by an intimidation campaign against the artist and her mother and an extended scrutiny (from February until November 2019) of all her online and offline projects by law enforcement. All this indicates trumped up nature of the charges and the obvious political motivation for the prosecution.
Art materials in Tsvetkova’s case cannot be recognized as pornographic. They do not incite sexual desire, are not naturalistic, and have a specific artistic and ideological value. From our point of view and based on expertise of various experts who have examined the works, these materials are no more pornography than images of the genitals in the school anatomy textbook. By itself, an image of vagina does not automatically classify materials as “pornographic.” In the world of art and design of the 19th – 21st centuries there are numerous examples of such depictions of an important cultural value.
Moreover, the criminal prosecution of Tsvetkova seems to be targeted because of a large amount of significantly more candid and naturalistic materials on the Internet that have not been subjected to criminal investigations. The very assumption that someone could perceive the drawings posted by Tsvetkova as pornography is absurd in today’s realities. Similarly, the crude interference of law enforcement agencies in creative matters and attempts to criminalize contemporary art, placing the function of art experts on police investigators, is absurdly anachronistic.
The Memorial Human Rights Center, according to international guidelines for the definition of a “political prisoner,” recognizes Yulia Tsvetkova as a political prisoner. We call for closing the absurd case of allegedly disseminating pornography and immediately releasing the activist from the house arrest.