Out in the World: Russia accuses journalist Gessen of spreading 'false information' in lawsuit

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Thursday November 30, 2023
Share this Post:
Masha Gessen is being sued by the Russian government for their reporting on Russian soldiers' actions in Ukraine. Courtesy Facebook<br>
Masha Gessen is being sued by the Russian government for their reporting on Russian soldiers' actions in Ukraine. Courtesy Facebook

Russia is suing Russian American journalist Masha Gessen for allegedly spreading "false information" about Russian soldiers' actions in Ukraine.

Russian soldiers invaded Ukraine under the orders of President Vladimir Putin February 24, 2022. Ever since the country has cracked down on dissidents critical of the Slavic nation's invasion of a sovereign country.

Russian authorities immediately arrested Russian anti-war protestors and anyone critical of the invasion after the war began. Independent Russian newspapers have been given the "foreign agent" label, which requires the media outlets to have banners stating they've been given such status otherwise their publishers face fines and/or prison sentences.

Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the head of the Russian government-funded paramilitary group, the Wagner Group, was killed when his plane exploded August 23 two months after he led a failed coup against his former ally Putin.

Gessen, a nonbinary and transgender person who uses they/them pronouns, lives in the United States and holds dual Russian and U.S. citizenship. They are a longtime critic of Putin, reported the Washington Post.

They moved to New York in 2013 after Putin's first crackdown on the LGBTQ community with the passage of the "Anti-Homosexuality Propaganda" law in June of that year. Last year, Putin extended the law from protecting children to any public "promotion" of LGBTQ information, reported Human Rights Watch.

Gessen, a New Yorker staffer, was charged with spreading "knowingly false information" about the atrocities committed by the Russian soldiers in the Ukrainian city of Bucha following an interview with popular Russian YouTuber and journalist Yury Dud last year, reported The Moscow Times. Dud has more than 10 million YouTube subscribers, according to The Post.

YouTube is the only Western social media platform accessible to Russians. Facebook, Instagram, and X are blocked.

Shortly after Russian soldiers invaded Ukraine last year, they occupied Bucha, a city west of Kyiv. Bucha Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk claims that 20% of the city's population was killed during the Russian occupation, reported the Moscow Times.

Russia denied the reports of the alleged atrocities of murdered and brutalized Ukrainians at the hands of Russian soldiers that surfaced in March 2022, calling it fake news, reported the Post.

Gessen traveled through Ukrainian cities reporting on potential war crimes in the first months of the war and discussed her experience during the interview.

Russian authorities do not have any legal ability to arrest Gessen as long as they do not travel to Russia or any country that has a mutual extradition treaty with Moscow, they told the Post. However, the criminal case does limit their ability to report on Russia.

Gessen won the National Book Award in nonfiction for their 2017 book, "The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia." They also authored "The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin" in 2013.

Russia has extradition treaties with nearly all former Soviet states, as well as Indonesia, India, Thailand, and other countries, reported the Post.

"The chances that I will ever be able to go back to Russia — I'm 56 years old — are pretty slim," Gessen told the Post. "That has a significant impact on my life and at some point, my journalism."

"But there are also a whole bunch of countries it would be unsafe for me to go to — they're going to issue a search warrant in the next week or so and that means that all the countries that have extradition treaties with Russia become risky places," they added.

Russian authorities have severely cracked down on independent journalists since the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, using an array of draconian "fake news" and "discreditation of the army" laws adopted in the first weeks of the war.

Last year a Russian court shuttered independent media outlet Novaya Gazeta, yanking its license to operate and labeling the newspaper's editor-in-chief, Dmitry Muratov, a "foreign agent." Muratov received a joint Nobel Peace Prize in 2021. He launched a legal campaign against Russia, suing the country in September, reported Reuters.

Fellow award-winning Russian lesbian journalist Elena Kostyuchenko, who wrote for Novaya Gazeta for 17 years and who has also been critical in her reporting on the Russian-Ukraine war, has been on the run with her girlfriend after she was believed to be poisoned. Kostyuchenko published a memoir last month, "I Love Russia: Reporting from a Lost Country," the Bay Area Reporter reported.

The Post reported another Russian-American journalist, Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is with the Tatar-Bashkir service of the U.S. Congress-funded media outlet, was imprisoned for failing to self-report and register as a foreign agent, according to Russian authorities. It's the first such case against a reporter in Russia.

Russian authorities detained Kurmasheva before she boarded a flight to Prague, where she lives with her family, at the airport in Kazan, Russia. She faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

The list of Russian and foreign journalists facing legal issues in the country, including American Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, continues to grow. Russian authorities charged Gershkovich with espionage which he, the Journal, and the U.S. deny. He has been in jail for nine months.

First queer couple marries in Nepal

Maya Gurung and Surendra Pandey became the first queer Nepali couple to wed in the Himalayan country November 29.

Gurung, 35, a transgender woman who is legally recognized as male, and Pandey, 27, a cisgender man, were legally wed by Dordi authorities in their home district of Lamjung.

Gurung told the BBC that their registration was a "big day" not just for the couple, but all sexual minorities.

"The fight for rights is not easy. We have done it. And it will be easier for future generations," she said. "The registration has opened doors to a lot of things for us."

The couple made several attempts this year to legally register their marriage but had been denied. The couple wed in a Hindu ceremony in 2017.

Nepal currently only recognizes marriages between one man and one woman.

According to Human Rights Watch, the couple first attempted to legally register their marriage at the Kathmandu District Court in June after Nepal's Supreme Court instructed authorities to register same-sex marriages, but was denied. The couple appealed to the Patan High Court in September. The couple was denied again. The judges stated it was the responsibility of the federal government to change the law before the lower courts could register same-sex marriages.

In March, Nepal's Supreme Court issued an interim order instructing authorities to register same-sex marriages following its ordering the government to legally recognize a gay Nepali couple who married in Germany, reported HRW.

Nepal's Supreme Court is considering a case that argues for marriage equality across the country.

Hem Raj Kafle, chief administrative officer of the Dordi rural municipality, told Reuters, "We have issued the marriage registration certificate to the couple in consideration of the Supreme Court order and instructions from relevant government authorities."

Nepal has had a long journey to marriage equality. In 2007, Nepal's Supreme Court ordered the government to form a committee to draft a law legalizing same-sex marriage. In 2015, the committee recommended Nepal's government to do so, but the country's leaders failed to follow through on the recommendation. Its failure to bring legislation to parliament prompted more legal actions, leading up to March's Supreme Court interim order on same-sex marriage.

The couple told the BBC that they wanted to open a joint bank account and share ownership of the land they bought. But their biggest dream is to adopt a child, once their finances are more stable.

Former gay member of parliament and LGBTQ rights activist Sunil Babu Pant, founder of the Blue Diamond Society, Nepal's leading gay rights organization, called the marriage a "historic" moment, reported the BBC.

"Now we can register our marriage as do the regular couples. But we still have to do more to get other rights," he told the BBC.

Thailand parliament to debate same-sex marriage bill next month

Thailand's parliament will debate the Southeast Asian country's same-sex marriage law in December.

On November 20, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced the cabinet approved the draft bill and would send it to parliament on December 12, reported Reuters and The Diplomat.

According to The Diplomat, Karom Polpornklang, a deputy government spokesperson, clarified Srettha's comments. The government spokesperson said Thailand's Civil and Commercial Code will be amended to change "men and women" to "individuals" and "husband and wife" to "marriage partners." The change of wording in the law will allow same-sex couples to marry and have the same rights as straight couples.

Srettha's announcement comes after LGBTQ and human rights activists criticized him for not putting the issue on parliament's agenda when lawmakers returned to session September 1, reported The Diplomat.

Thailand is known for being open and welcoming to LGBTQ people. In 2013, the Tourism Authority of Thailand launched an LGBTQ travel campaign, goThai.beFree, reported the New York Times, that it has promoted for a decade. Thailand most recently revived its campaign this summer to leverage its being LGBTQ-friendly and the popularity of its "boy-love" dramas, reported Nikkei Asia.

Bangkok, Thailand's capital, is also openly eyeing hosting WorldPride in 2028, Srettha has publicly stated, reported Reuters.

Thailand decriminalized homosexuality in 1956, but since then LGBTQ Thais have lived in a legal no man's land with no laws discriminating against or protecting them. However, Thailand is also one of only nine Asian countries that signed a declaration of LGBTQ rights at the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2011, reported The Diplomat.

In a statement to The Diplomat, Thai human rights organization Fortify Rights representative Mookdapa Yangyuenpradorn wrote LGBTQ Thais "face daily discrimination and the legal hurdles that come with a lack of marital rights, including the right to welfare, child adoption, healthcare consent, property co-management, inheritance, and access to spousal benefits like tax deductions and government pensions."

In recent years, Thailand's parliament has reviewed and debated a variety of bills to grant civil unions and same-sex marriage. All bills have failed to make it to a final vote.

Thailand's political parties — the ruling Pheu Thai and its rivals — campaigned supporting marriage equality ahead of the May elections, reported Reuters.

If parliament approves the draft law, and it receives royal assent of King Vajiralongkorn, Thailand will become the third country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.

In addition to the recent moves by Nepal, Taiwan legalized marriage equality in 2019. In October, as the B.A.R. reported, India's supreme court declined to rule on same-sex marriage, sending the issue to India's parliament to decide.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

Never miss a story! Keep up to date on the latest news, arts, politics, entertainment, and nightlife. Sign up for the Bay Area Reporter's free weekday email newsletter. You'll receive our newsletters and special offers from our community partners.

Support California's largest LGBTQ newsroom. Your one-time, monthly, or annual contribution advocates for LGBTQ communities. Amplify a trusted voice providing news, information, and cultural coverage to all members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay -- Donate today!