A Chinese student in Russia is facing deportation following his arrest last week for allegedly violating the country’s controversial “gay propaganda” law.
Haoyang Xu, a 21-year-old Chinese national in Russia on a student visa, was reportedly arrested last week along with his Russian partner Gela Gogishvili, 23, both of whom are well-known vloggers on TikTok with over 740,000 followers in total.
Adel Khaydarshin, a lawyer representing the gay couple, told CNN that Xu, who was charged under Article 6.21 of Russia’s Administrative Offenses Code, also known as the gay propaganda law, was placed in temporary detention for foreigners and could be facing possible deportation.
Gogishvili, who is facing the same charge, only received a 200,000 rubles (approximately $2,450) fine instead of detention. He was reportedly released hours after being taken to the police station.
Recalling the event to Newsweek, Gogishvili, who runs a YouTube channel with Xu where they share their experience as a gay couple living in Russia, said they were stopped by a police officer at around 1 p.m. on Wednesday in the city of Kazan while out with their friends.
The officer reportedly asked Xu for his passport and visa, which were not in his possession at the time. The officer then escorted the two to their home to retrieve the documents and later took them to the police station, where they were charged with violating the gay propaganda law.
“We were very scared … it became a living hell because the impossible happened,” Gogishvili told Newsweek. “The policeman told us that it’s not that Haoyang didn’t have his papers on him but we will be prosecuted for ‘gay propaganda’ and … Haoyang could be deported.”
Gogishvili also said he has been bringing food and medication to the police station for Xu in the hopes that he receives them.
“Police were not polite to us, but there was no serious abuse and I hope it stays that way,” he said. “I’m holding in tears because I don’t have time to cry right now.”
According to Vladimir Komov, a senior partner at DELO LGBT+, a Moscow-based LGBTQ+ group, authorities had been looking for Gogishvili, who is employed as a pharmacist, in different pharmacies in the city since March.
Komov told Newsweek that the gay propaganda law falls under the Administrative Code but that the Kazan police treated the couple like “they are dangerous criminal offenders.”
He was also confused as to why the couple became a target, considering that they are very popular on social media and only share daily life content with their followers.
They do TikToks about their everyday life as a gay couple, how they do chores, how they wash the dishes, how they communicate and only share a few romantic moments such as kissing … and some cuddling.
How did the police informer and the Kazan police deem there was LGBT+ ”propaganda” on their social media? These guys just posted videos in which they kiss, hug and show their favorite sleeping poses. All this was considered an inappropriate demonstration of ”homosexual intimacy”.
A court document shared by Khaydarshin to CNN revealed Xu was arrested for posting videos showing “non-traditional sexual relations” with his partner.
The court document also claimed that the authorities uncovered videos on the couple’s YouTube channel showing the two kissing each other and allegedly touching “each other on various parts of the body, including in the genital area.”
According to the court, almost 1,800 of the couple’s subscribers on YouTube were under 18 years old.
While Xu has not yet been deported, their lawyer said he could still appeal the court’s decision.
First implemented in 2013, the gay propaganda law was reinforced after receiving a unanimous vote from Russia’s upper house of parliament in November 2022.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the law in December 2022. The newly strengthened law has made promoting or praising LGBTQ+ relationships online, in the media and in books illegal, as well as public expressions of non-heterosexual orientations. The new amendment extended the ban on spreading LGBTQ-related information to all ages.
Those caught breaking the law could face a fine of up to 400,000 rubles (approximately $4,900) for individuals and 5 million rubles (approximately $61,000) for organizations.