Russia seeks extremist label for LGBT movement

A pride flag with Russian text reading "Stop propaganda of violence"
Image caption,A rainbow banner reading “stop propaganda of violence” at a 2017 pride event in St Petersburg

Russia’s justice ministry has filed a motion with the country’s Supreme Court to ban the activities of what it calls the “international LGBT public movement” as extremist.

It is unclear whether the ministry’s statement refers to the LGBT community as a whole or specific organisations.

It said the movement had shown signs of “extremist activity”, including inciting “social and religious strife”.

The ban could leave any LGBT activist vulnerable to criminal prosecution.

The extremist label has been used in the past by Russian authorities against rights organisations and opposition groups such as Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

The top court will examine the motion on 30 November.

The ban would make it impossible for LGBT organisations to operate and put activists and employees at risk of criminal prosecution, the Moscow Times quoted one of the few LGBT activists still inside Russia as saying.

“Essentially, it would entail criminal prosecution based solely on one’s orientation or identity.”

Analysts suggest the move is a populist measure designed to win votes ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Vladimir Putin is widely expected to stand for a fifth term as president, though he has not yet openly declared his candidacy.

Russia under Mr Putin has cracked down on LGBT activism, which he sees as part of an attack by the West on “traditional Russian values”.

This campaign was accelerated following the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Legislation passed last December banned “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among all age groups. This was an expansion of a 2013 law aimed at minors.

The law categorises any positive depictions of same-sex relationships in mass media or advertising under the same umbrella as distributing pornography, the promotion of violence, or stoking racial, ethnic and religious tensions.

This year saw a crackdown on transgender rights, with legislation in July banning gender reassignment surgery.

Officials insist that “non-traditional sexual relations” are not banned in Russia.

Deputy Justice Minister Andrey Loginov said on Monday at a UN review of Russia’s human rights record that LGBT rights were enshrined in law, and that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity was banned.

But the latest move is likely to cause deep concern in an already threatened community.

“Activists face pressure from the state, as well as from homophobic and transphobic groups, often enduring physical attacks,” the unnamed campaigner added.

LGBT charity boss Dilya Gafurova, who has left Russia, told AFP news agency that authorities were not just trying to “erase us from the public field: they want to ban us as a social group”.

“We’ll continue our fight,” she said.

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