An LGBT activist is suing controversial Russian celebrity Ivan Okhlobystin, demanding an apology and monetary compensation over a speech in which the former priest said gays should be “thrown in a furnace while they are still alive.”
Nikolay Bayev claims in his lawsuit that he took the statement, made in the city of Novosibirsk in 2013, as a personal threat and that it “caused him feelings of fear, disturbance and inferiority.”
The plaintiff wants Okhlobystin to apologize before the whole LGBT community and also to pay him 30,000 rubles (about US$860) in moral damages. The lawsuit has been accepted by the Tushino District Court in Moscow where Bayev lives, and the first hearing into the case is scheduled for February 17.
In addition, Bayev filed an official request to the prosecutor’s office asking to charge his opponent with extremism, but so far there has been no official reaction.
In press comments on this move, the LGBT activist noted that he had little hope of winning the case in a Russian court. The real objective is to exhaust the appeals process at home and take the lawsuit to the European Court of Human Rights.
Okhlobystin tweeted about the lawsuit, expressing surprise that such things as a court battle between a gay person and a priest can take place in Russia. He also threatened Bayev with a retaliatory lawsuit, claiming the whole situation insults his religious feelings (a criminal offense in Russia since 2013 punishable by up to three years in jail).
The defendant also insisted that his statement was not a call for violence, but rather his personal opinion, and said that he was not planning to participate in the process as priests can only do this after approval from the Patriarch.
He did not explain how he was so sure such approval would never be granted and Church officials have not made any comments since the news broke.
It should be noted that Okhlobystin was banned from service a few years ago on his own request so that he could work as an actor. Since then he starred in several and a comedy series and also found a job as a creative director in a major mobile retailer. However, the retailer sacked Okhlobystin after a recent scandal that also arose from his anti-gay statements – in early January this year he posted an open letter to the Russian authorities urging a nationwide referendum on criminalizing male homosexuality.
The letter caused a wave of indignation in the public and mass media, although the idea also received some support.
The Russian Orthodox Church was among the backers, with the head of the Holy Synod’s Department for Relations with the Community, Vsevolod Chaplin, saying in a press interview that gay relations between men posed a threat to society, and their criminalization “deserved discussion in society without any doubt.”
The senior cleric added that since Russia is a democratic country, the majority of its people and not some “external forces” must decide what constitutes a criminal offence and what does not.
However, President Vladimir Putin dismissed the possibility of such discourse in a recent TV interview, stressing that Russia is a secular state and such initiatives were unlikely to gain any momentum.