By Daria Litvinova
MOSCOW, Nov 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Russia have doubled in five years, researchers said on Tuesday, in the wake of a law banning "gay propaganda".
Murders accounted for almost 200 out of 250 crimes analysed, the Center for Independent Social Research said, attributing the surge to Russia's 2013 ban on the spreading of "propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations" to minors.
"(Offenders) have become more aggressive and less fearful," said Svetlana Zakharova, a board member with Russian LGBT Network, the country's most prominent gay rights campaign group, which has noted the same trend.
"It seems to them that, to some extent, the government supports their actions. Many perpetrators openly talk about their crimes as noble deeds."
The police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The number of sentences for crimes against LGBT people increased to 65 in 2015 from 18 in 2010, the St. Petersburg-based researchers said, drawing on court records and data from judicial watchdog RosPravosudie. Most victims were gay men.
Homosexuality in Russia, where the influence of the socially conservative Orthodox Church has grown in recent years, was a criminal offence until 1993 and classed as a mental illness until 1999.
Researchers said the figures are an underestimate as many hate crimes are not reported, investigated or prosecuted.
The 'gay propaganda' law, which has been used to stop gay pride marches and to detain gay rights activists, is seen by many as a move by President Vladimir Putin to crack down on dissent and draw closer to the Russian Orthodox Church.
Russia was ranked Europe's second least LGBT-friendly nation in 2016 by ILGA-Europe, a network of European LGBT groups.
(Reporting by Daria Litvinova. Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.