Disappointment for Russian Lesbian Seeking Asylum

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Alla Pitcherskaia left in legal limbo
June 4, 1998

(NEW YORK June 6, 1997) -- Immigration officials Thursday refused to resolve a Russian lesbian's asylum case and instead ruled that Alla Pitcherskaia must prove to an immigration judge that she is likely to be persecuted if returned to her native country, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said.

Pitcherskaia, 36, now a San Francisco resident, seeks asylum in the United States after being beaten, harassed, and forcibly detained by both the Russian police and organized crime members for being a lesbian and advocate for lesbians' and gay men's civil rights.

In an appeal of an earlier United States Board of Immigration Appeals decision against Pitcherskaia, Lambda won a ruling that lesbians and gay men who suffer violence in their homelands need not prove their persecutors had malicious intent when they acted to "cure" gay people with forced psychiatric hospitalization, electroshock "therapy," or drugs.

"The evidence before the Board was overwhelming that Pitcherskaia is at risk of being persecuted for being a lesbian if she is sent back to Russia. The Board should have granted Alla asylum now, not left her in legal limbo," said Lambda Staff Attorney Suzanne B. Goldberg, who argued on Pitcherskaia's behalf before the appeals court.

Goldberg told the appeals court that, if returned to Russia, Pitcherskaia could face so-called "treatments" others have suffered for their sexual orientation as well as continued brutality by the police and by attackers the police ignored.

Since leaving Russia in 1992, Pitcherskaia's business has also been destroyed, and a co-worker murdered. Targeted by the Russian police since her youth for being a lesbian, the only criminal charge ever brought against Pitcherskaia, even after years of arrests and beatings at their hands, was "hooliganism." This charge is often used against lesbians and gay men and allows police to arrest and detain persons for up to 15 days without trial and for up to five years following a conviction.

"Human rights laws cannot be sidestepped simply by couching torture in benevolent terms such as 'curing' or 'treating' the victim," the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said in a unanimous 1997 decision.

Lambda Legal Director Beatrice Dohrn said, "The BIA gave a very stingy reading to the appellate ruling that recognized the full breadth of dangers Pitcherskaia would face in Russia."

With its decision Thurday, the BIA now sends the case back to immigration court, where a judge originally rejected Pitcherskaia's claims.

San Francisco attorney Ignatius Bau is co-counsel with Lambda in the case.

(In re Pitcherskaia, No. 95-70887)


Contact: Peg Byron, 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 (pager); Suzanne B. Goldberg, 212-809-8585 x 214


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