Letter To The Foreign Secretary: The Response

A few weeks ago, I sent a letter to William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, raising concerns over the Russian anti-LGBTQ laws, and how they would affect those traveling to the Olympics, among others. The text of that letter can be found here. I also forwarded my letter to my MP, Tessa Jowell, who promised to raise the issue with the appropriate people, and pass any responses on to me.

This morning I got a letter from Dame Tessa Jowell which included a letter sent to her by the Minister for Europe, Rt Hon. David Lidington MP. I’ve written up the text below:

Dear Tessa,

Thank you for your letter of 9 August, to the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of your constituent [me, but I’m not posting my address] about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Russia. I am replying as Minister responsible for Russia.

The new Russian law which prohibits the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” could in effect prevent LGBT people from fully enjoying the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

We have repeatedly raised our concerns about the growing restrictions on LGBTQ freedoms in Russia, including at the 2013 UK-Russia Human Rights dialogue in May. We also raise concerns with the Russian government at political level. The Prime Minister most recently outlined our human rights concerns with President Putin in June, and I regularly raise cases of concern in my dialogue with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister.

We want to see an open and inclusive games at the Sochi Winter Olympics 2014 but do not support a boycott. We have a better chance of influencing Russia by speaking to them and challenging prejudices as we attend, rather than through a boycott.

Our government is working with the International Olympic Committee and the British Olympic Association to ensure that the games take place in the spirit of the Olympic Charter and remain free of discrimination.

We have updated our travel advice on Russia to inform British nationals of the new law. We review this advice regularly and will update further as necessary.

It would be a crime in Russian law if any unlawful activities were carried out on an individual and we would expect the Russian authorities to fully investigate any such incidents.

Human rights form an important part of the UK-Russia relationship and we will continue to pay close attention to developments in this area, and take further opportunities to urge Russian to demonstrate that it is governed by the rule of law and respects human rights.

The Rt Hon David Lidington MP

Pretty much the response I was expecting. But it is at least a start. I’m considering sending Mr Lidington a further response, but we’ll have to wait and see.

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Russian Anti-LGBTQ Laws: Letter Sent to Foreign Secretary

Dear Mr Hague,
In your role as Foreign Secretary, I am sure that you are aware of the current human rights violations that are going on in Russia, and the brutal and systematic assault on the rights of LGBTQ individuals, purely because of their sexuality or gender identity. In case you have somehow missed it, here are a couple of reminders of what has been going on: first from Business Insider, from Buzzfeed and finally from the New York Times (I’ve put the full length links at the bottom of this letter in case there is an issue with linking through the FCO email system).

I would like to know why the UK government has drawn little attention to what is happening, and how come there has not been international condemnation of the actions of the Russian government, and calls for President Putin to revoke laws which will not only criminalise being a gay Russian, but will also make it possible for the Russian police to arrest anyone, of any nationality, they suspect of being LGBTQ. Why has the UK government said nothing? Would you keep similarly silent were this a law making it illegal to be Jewish or Black, or is it just because the victims of these hateful, bigoted, narrow-minded laws are LGBTQ that it is less of a hate crime?

Or, as I suspect, is it that the UK, as much of Europe does, relies on gas and oil from Russia, and the government will give the Russian government carte-blanche to abuse the human rights of their citizens, just as long as they don’t turn off the taps?

Furthermore, what is the government’s advice with regards to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi?Is advice being given that LGBTQ people ought not to travel, so that the consular section in Moscow doesn’t have to deal with people being arrested purely because of their sexuality? Again, if these laws had a different focus, would you be advising black people not to attend, “for their own safety”?

Finally, I am appalled at the “joint UK-Russia Year of Culture in 2014.” How is it that this government can be comfortable saying that we wish to celebrate our joint culture with a country that has begun such a brutal crackdown on the rights and safety of LGBTQ people? This is an embarrassment to the UK, and I strongly urge you to reconsider this partnership.

The double standard that is being expressed simply by your silence on the matter is chilling, and it is disturbing to think that the UK would stand by while people are beaten, brutalised and murdered because of their sexuality.

Given that the UK recently legalised same-sex marriages (despite the efforts of some of your own back benchers to portray gay people as child molesters and on a par with people who have sex with animals) I would have expected you, as Foreign Secretary, to represent this country properly in terms of standing up for LGBTQ people both in the UK and abroad.

I hope to hear back from you on this issue, and I hope that the government will take proper and appropriate action against human rights abuses against LGBTQ people in Russia.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Sheppard.

 

Links as mentioned above:

1. Business Insider Article: http://www.businessinsider.com/horrific-russia-gay-bullying-video-goes-viral-2013-7

2. Buzzfeed Article: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/this-is-what-happens-when-you-write-about-homophobia-in-russ

3. NY Times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/22/opinion/russias-anti-gay-crackdown.html