#ЗаЮлю and Social Media Activism: A Call Out for International Support

Russian activist Yulia Tsvetkova is facing criminal charges for posting body-positive and LGBT+ friendly art on social media. 

She has been accused of distributing pornography with criminal intent, and expects to be sentenced for up to 6 years in prison.

Tsvetkova has previously been active in campaigns to promote cis and trans women’s rights, LGBT+ education, and to dispel traditional gender roles. In February 2020, the Memorial human rights watchdog listed Tsvetkova as a recognised political prisoner, attributing the harsh and disproportionate treatment to her political views.

This latest charge against Tsvetkova’s work came after years of invasive surveillance, arbitrary arrests, and persecution by police forces for her content posted online.

As Russia exacerbates its regulation of internet-use, counter-campaigns have also taken to social media to protest.

Tsvetkova’s friends and supporters are raising awareness via the hashtags #ямыЮлияЦветкова (we are Yulia Tsvetkova) and #заЮлю (for Yulia). Over the last week, thousands of people from within and outside of Russia have flooded the hashtags with body-positive, LGBT+ friendly works of art in protest against the treatment of Tsvetkova. This “mediastrike” has gone beyond VKontakte (the networking site favoured by Russians) with thousands of posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, building support internationally.

Beyond social media, a website has been set up with English and Russian-language information and news coverage, and support groups have begun lobbying international human rights organisations to put pressure on the prosecutors. A petition is also being circulated alongside a statement from supporting activists:

“In Komsomolsk-on-Amur, 26-year-old Yulia Tsvetkova, a female activist and director of the Merak Children’s Theater, was arrested – she is charged with “disseminating pornography”, and the investigation is based on her body-positive drawings. Previously, she was placed under house arrest, a search was carried out at her home, and all of her materials were seized. Yulia faces 2 to 6 years in prison…

…The attention of law enforcement agencies was attracted by six drawings depicting women. Each of them illustrates several slogans that begin with the phrase “Living women have …” and end with the words “And this is normal!”. Alongside, the drawings show the living women with body hair, fat, menstruation, wrinkles and gray hair, muscles, imperfect skin.

The police believe that these drawings are pornographic in nature, and with their help Tsvetkova “seduces children” while working in the Merak youth theatre. Yulia constantly receives many threats in her address and is subjected to massive harassment on the social network. The police do not react to this in any way. In an interview, Yulia’s mother spoke about the difficult psychological state of her daughter in connection with the persecution.

At the time of detention, Yulia’s lawyer was on vacation, and she was left without protection a very stressful situation. The moment of her detention was filmed and published, which looks like an act of intimidation for other feminist-activists.

We demand an immediate end to the persecution of Yulia Tsvetkova.”

The petition has amassed almost half a million signatures so far.

While Tsvetkova awaits a trial, campaigns of resistance and solidarity are gaining international momentum.

Here are some things you could do to help: 

  • Spread the hashtags along with body-positive thoughts and artworks.
  • Email the prosecutors in Russia, Amnesty have an instant email platform here.
  • Share and sign the petition here.
  • Follow the Telegram news feed here
  • Support Russian LGBTQI+ activists who are still campaigning.

Main image: “My body is not pornography” © Yulia Tsvetkova/Facebook