Dutch offer political asylum to Russian gays

Russian gays were able to seek refugee status in the Netherlands before Foreign Minister made his statement. Source: Reuters

Russian gays were able to seek refugee status in the Netherlands before Foreign Minister made his statement. Source: Reuters

As the King of The Netherlands arrives in Moscow for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, the Dutch foreign minister denounced Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law, saying his country would seriously consider political asylum requests from those persecuted under the law.

The announcement from the Dutch foreign minister that victims of the Russian “anti-gay propaganda law” could receive political asylum in The Netherlands has increased political tensions between the countries, which have already endured a series of awkward diplomatic incidents this year.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans announcement this week in a letter to the Dutch parliament that “the law against the propaganda of homosexuality has a stigmatic and discriminative impact, and promotes a climate of homophobia, leading to intimidation of individuals of non-traditional orientation (LGBT) and their adherents.”

According to the foreign minister, the violation of human rights, as stipulated under the new Russian law, may be taken into consideration when making a decision to grant asylum to Russians.

One observer said the Dutch offer of asylum this week will reflect poorly on the reputation of Russian government.

“The statement of the minister of The Netherlands is a major blow to the reputation of Russian politicians,” said Lev Gudkov, the director of Levada Center, a Moscow-based, independent polling organization. “For now, though, their greater part prefers to brush off this criticism from the EU.” Gudkov said he believes homosexuals account for no more than 6 percent to 8 percent of Russia’s total population, and only a matter of a few hundred may decide to leave the country as a result of the Dutch government’s announcement.

Gudkov added that in the EU, where the level of legislative protection is much higher than in Russia, the law is perceived as a something “wild and the repression of sexual minorities.”

Timmermans’ statement comes at an awkward time, as King Willem-Alexander begins a state visit to the Kremlin for an official ceremony to mark the end of the Netherlands-Russia Year. The meeting of the monarch and Russian President Vladimir Putin is designed to emphasize the friendly relations between the two countries.

It also follows a series of incidents between the two countries, including the recent row over the detained Greenpeace ship, the Artic Sunrise, which is registered in The Netherlands. The Dutch have filed a complaint against Russia in an international court, claiming the Russians had not legal right to seize the ship.

In another incident in early October, a diplomat at the Russian Embassy in The Hauge, Dmitry Borodin, was arrested on suspicion of mistreating his children. He was later released. The Netherlands later apologized for a breach of the Russian’s diplomatic immunity, but remarked that the policemen involved would not be punished. Moscow has declared that the Russian authorities have no grounds to suspect Borodin of having broken any laws.

Then in mid-October, the deputy ambassador of the Netherlands, Onno Elderenbosh, was beaten up in his apartment in Moscow. Men passing themselves off as electricians tied him up and wrote the abbreviation LGBT in lipstick on a mirror. Russia apologized and requested the assistance of the Netherlands in investigating the matter.

Russian politicians, however, said they believed that the Dutch foreign minister’s words were an attempt to strengthen his position in the diplomatic conflict between two countries.

“This law does not violate any civil rights,” declared Elena Mizulina, the head of the State Duma Committee for the Family, Women and Children. She said she doubts this will result in a mass exodus of Russian people. Timmerman’s announcement may stem from a desire to render Russia vulnerable after the unjustified intrusion into the apartment of a Russian diplomat in The Hague, she said.

Russian gays were able to seek refugee status in The Netherlands before Foreign Minister made his statement. As it was explained on the website of the Netherlands Immigration and Naturalization Service, one can obtain refugee status as a victim, persecuted for being from a sexual minority in their native country. The ILGA website explains that those seeking asylum should not have to prove that they are homosexual; it is sufficient that they are deemed such by the authorities. Nevertheless, the procedure of obtaining the right to remain is fairly complex and takes a multitude of factors into account.

Before the Dutch king arrived in Russia, Amnesty International launched a with “useful tips” for King Willem-Alexander during his forthcoming trip to the Kremlin. In particular, the video recommended that he conduct himself in a “”decent manner in his communication with “the powers that be,” because Russia has enacted a law about the prohibition of homosexual propaganda in Russia. The video was accompanied with a struck-through picture of Leonid Brezhnev, the former Soviet General Secretary, kissing Erick Henneker, Head of the German Democratic Republic.

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