Vladimir Putin

Russia’s Supreme Court has ruled that the ‘international LGBT movement’ is an ‘extremist organisation’ in a move which human rights groups have said will jeopardise all forms of LGBT rights campaigning in the country. The ruling came in a closed hearing, in which the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Justice Ministry’s lawsuit accusing the ‘LGBT movement’ of inciting social and religious discord.

Following the ruling, human rights groups have said that Russian authorities must end the ‘perverse persecution’ of LGBT people.

“The authorities’ move apparently serves a dual purpose,” said Tanya Lokshina, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Lokshina added: “It is meant to increase the scapegoating of LGBT people to appeal to the Kremlin’s conservative supporters before the March 2024 presidential vote and to paralyse the work of rights groups countering discrimination and supporting LGBT people.”

Under Russian criminal law, participating in or financing an extremist organisation is punishable by up to 12 years in prison. A person found guilty of displaying such groups’ symbols faces up to 15 days in detention for the first offense and up to four years in prison for a repeat offense. The authorities may include individuals suspected of involvement with an extremist organisation in the countrywide “list of extremists” and freeze their bank accounts. People deemed to be involved with an extremist organisation are barred from running for public office.

In a November 28 submission to the Supreme Court, seven prominent Russian rights groups said that a decision to support the Justice Ministry’s lawsuit would be discriminatory and violate a wide range of rights. Since the organisation the government sought to outlaw, the “International LGBT Movement,” does not exist, human rights defenders fear that the ruling will allow the authorities to arbitrarily prosecute anyone for any activities related to LGBT rights.

For over a decade, Russian authorities have exploited Russia’ pernicious “gay propaganda” law to target LGBT people and activists. In December 2022, the parliament toughened the 2013 “gay propaganda” ban by extending it to cover all public information or activities supporting LGBT rights or ‘displaying non-heterosexual orientation’.

The legislation does not provide any exclusion for art, scientific studies, or education and perpetuates a false idea that links LGBT people with paedophilia – repeatedly referring to ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations and/or preferences, paedophilia, and sex change.’

Since 2021, after lawmakers included a ban on same-sex marriage in Russia’s constitution, authorities have designated 17 LGBT organisations as “foreign agents,” a term that in Russian has connotations of spying and engaging in sabotage. This designation subjects the groups to a range of stifling and stigmatising requirements.

Earlier in 2023, Russia’s parliament adopted legislation that violates a wide range of transgender people’s rights. It bans health care needed by trans people, changing gender markers in official documents, and dissolving marriages of trans people. It also prevents trans people from adopting or taking guardianship over children.

With Russian LGBT rights organisations and activists already in jeopardy and the risk of prosecution exacerbated by the Supreme Court’s “extremism” ruling, countries around the world should provide safe haven to those forced to flee Russia in the face of criminal prosecution or other grave threats, Human Rights Watch said.

“The assault on LGBT rights has become a symbol of Russia’s rejection of universal human rights, as the government positions Russia as the defender of so-called traditional values in opposition to ‘the collective West,’” Lokshina said, adding: “Russian LGBT people need support now more than ever.”

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Image credit: The Russian Presidential Press and Information Centre – Creative Commons