MOSCOW: A Russian transgender woman is being sentenced to three years in a men’s prison on child pornography charges for posting several Japanese manga cartoons online.
The 53-year-old woman, identified only as Michelle, was convicted in late November on “bogus” charges of “distribution of pornography depicting minors,” on social media in 2013 and 2014, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports.
Michelle originally shared hentai erotica, which HRW describes as “sexually charged drawings featuring naked characters from Japanese cartoons.” Police told her in the summer of 2018 that she was under investigation.
The charges of distributing pornography depicting minors carry a maximum prison sentence of eight years, however, the western Russian city of Bryansk’s court database withholds the convicted person’s name.
The director of the Moscow Community Center For LGBT Initiatives, an organisation that handles lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues, Tatyana Vinnichenko said that death is inevitable in a prison system that doesn’t accommodate a transgender status.
“If Michelle is dealt with in prison without regard for her transgender status she will die there,” she said.
Investigators concluded that the images Michelle posted were used to “meet persons of non-traditional sexual orientation,” according to the charges seen by CBS News.
Trans blogger and friend of Michelle’s who is helping fight the charges, Lada Preobrazhenskaya calls the allegations absurd.
“They are cartoon characters, how can one really establish how old they are?” she told CBS News.
Before her conviction, she worked as an epidemiologist at a local clinic. A survivor of bladder cancer, Michelle has been on hormone therapy for transitioning for roughly two years but is still legally recognised as male.
If Michelle’s appeal is rejected, she will be sent to a penal colony full of male convicts.
During her trial in November, Michelle was assigned a court-appointed public defender, who convinced her to plead guilty and get an expedited hearing. While Michelle is now appealing her conviction and sentence, her rights to health, identity and freedom in the balance as she is sent to a male penal colony.
A lawyer from the Moscow LGBT Community Center who was in contact with Michelle before her trial, Maria Chaschilova confirmed to HRW earlier this month that she does not have access to hormone therapy in prison and will not have it in a penal colony.
“She likely doesn’t have a medical report about her sex change, meaning she won’t have hormonal drugs in prison,” said Cheshchilova, a Moscow Community Center lawyer.
The World Professional Association for Transgender Health specifically warns that trans people in detention face the “consequences of abrupt withdrawal of hormones … include a high likelihood of negative outcomes such as surgical self-treatment by autocastration, depressed mood, dysphoria, and/or suicidality.”
“This is perhaps the cruellest punishment for pictures on the internet,” wrote the independent Dozhd television channel.
The LGBTQ community is notoriously marginalised in Russian society, where laws ban so-called “gay propaganda.” Maxim Pankratov, an openly gay man in Russia, made headlines in November after Russian authorities opened a criminal case over a YouTube video in which children interviewed him.
The video featured four children interviewing Pankratov, 22, about his life and his identity as a gay man.
“It was a normal conversation about my life, and they want to put me in jail,” Pankratov told CNN.