A Russian website featuring information on treating and preventing HIV mysteriously vanished last week. The Ukrainian paper Kyiv Post reports that the Russian government has blocked an LGBT health awareness website Parni PLUS (Guys PLUS) for challenging Russia’s sacred traditional family values. It’s the latest website to be targeted by state-run agencies.
On April 28, the website’s administrators received a notice from Roskomnadzor, The Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media. Roskomnadzor is the Russian federal watchdog responsible for the censorship of media and telecommunications.
The notice explained that a January 26 ruling in a district court in the Altai Territory prevents Parni PLUS and other websites from distributing information “contains information [which] challenges family values that promote unconventional sexual relations.” The notice didn’t specify which content supposedly violated the law. The notice also was delivered so late that it was past the window of opportunity to appeal the verdict, giving only the illusion that an appeal was possible. Despite missing the deadline, Parni PLUS has hired a lawyer to attempt to appeal anyways.
The Russian government has already blocked everything from LinkedIn to Reddit and threatened to block Facebook in its aggressive crackdown on what it allows on the internet.
Russia’s 2013 anti-gay propaganda law — deemed illegal by a European court last year — has set a precedent for the way gay and lesbian men and women are treated in Russia. The county’s LGBT attitudes overlap and affect HIV and AIDS resources and services. Russian President Vladimir Putin, unsurprisingly, has also failed to denounce reports of horrific anti-gay crimes in Chechnya. Likewise, Putin’s anti-gay selling points were included in his re-election propaganda videos last February.
The website has been around for a decade, providing LGBT sexual health information including information on family issues. “Our resource has existed for more than 10 years and consistently informs people about the HIV situation in Russia, gay health issues and other events of the LGBT world,” the website administrators said in a statement.
Recently, Roskomnadzor blocked hundreds of thousands of IP addresses owned by Amazon and Google, According to the human rights group Rokomsvoboda. Just a month ago, a separate court order was issued to Gay.ru for promoting “gay propaganda.”
Roskomnadzor’s infamous blacklist includes LinkedIn, Reddit, many Wikipedia pages, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses, bitcoin websites, and almost any mention of LGBT or drugs, whether it’s history or informational data. A handy webtool is available to see if Roskomnadzor currently blocks your own website by listing it on its blacklist. Roskomnadzor also threatened to block Facebook as recently as last September.
Hate and stigma have fueled the incidence of HIV infection in Russia. Researchers have known about the correlation for over a decade and published results in a 2006 study. “The results demonstrated that the perception that HIV was associated with immoral behavior underpinned stigma,” researchers wrote. “Discriminating attitudes are strongly associated with misperceptions regarding transmission and frequent over-estimation of risks from casual contact. The general population was unforgiving to those who had become infected sexually or through drug use.”
Getting the Russian government to back off of websites that inform visitors about HIV is only the short-term solution. The long-term solution begins with the general population and the negative way they look at people living with HIV, clouded by stigma and fear.