Russia’s Supreme Court declares LGBTQ+ activism an extremist organisation, sparking concerns of crackdown

139

1st December 2023 – (Moscow) The Supreme Court has ruled in favour of labelling LGBTQ+ activism as an extremist organisation and banning its activities. The court’s decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Justice Ministry, which argued that the movement posed a threat to social and religious harmony in the country. This ruling marks the latest step in a series of measures taken to curtail LGBTQ+ rights under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin.

The closed-door hearing, which lasted four hours, was shrouded in secrecy. Only Justice Ministry representatives were allowed inside the courtroom, and the reading of the verdict was conducted by Judge Oleg Nefedov, who wore a face mask, presumably for health reasons. The lack of transparency surrounding the proceedings has raised concerns about due process and the legitimacy of the ruling.

Critics argue that the lawsuit unfairly targets activists and effectively stifles any organized effort to advocate for the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals. By broadly defining the LGBTQ+ movement as an extremist organization, Russian authorities now have the power to crack down on any individual or group associated with it. Human rights lawyer Max Olenichev expressed concern that the ruling could be used to suppress LGBTQ+ initiatives and further marginalise the community.

International organizations have condemned the ruling, describing it as “shameful and absurd.” Amnesty International warned that the decision could lead to a blanket ban on LGBTQ+ organizations, violating fundamental freedoms such as association, expression, and peaceful assembly. The group’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Marie Struthers, warned of catastrophic consequences for countless people affected by the ruling.

However, the ruling has also received support from conservative quarters. A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church praised the decision, framing it as a form of societal self-defence against what they perceive as the erosion of traditional values.

This is not the first time that Russia has implemented laws restricting LGBTQ+ rights. In 2013, the infamous “gay propaganda” law was enacted, prohibiting the promotion of “nontraditional sexual relations” among minors. Last year, constitutional reforms introduced by Putin included a provision outlawing same-sex marriage. These measures reflect a broader trend of increasing conservatism and a crackdown on LGBTQ+ rights in the country.

The recent ruling follows the Kremlin’s heightened campaign against what it sees as the West’s “degrading” influence, particularly in the wake of the military intervention in Ukraine. In 2022, the authorities introduced a law banning the promotion of “nontraditional sexual relations” among adults, effectively silencing any public endorsement of LGBTQ+ individuals. This year, a new law was passed that prohibited gender-transitioning procedures and gender-affirming care for transgender people. These measures have further marginalized and stigmatized the LGBTQ+ community in Russia.

The Supreme Court’s ruling imposes various restrictions on LGBTQ+ activists, including participating in, aiding, or funding extremist organisations and publicly endorsing the ideas propagated by such organizations. The exact nature of these restrictions remains unclear due to the classified nature of the case. Legal actions against activists will likely shed light on the specific symbols and activities that are now banned. Violating these restrictions can result in prosecution and imprisonment.

The consequences of this ruling are far-reaching. It is expected to significantly hamper the support and assistance received by LGBTQ+ individuals from rights groups and grassroots initiatives. The community’s visibility and needs may also diminish as a result. Many LGBTQ+ individuals will feel compelled to leave Russia to avoid being targeted, while others are determined to stay and continue their work despite the increasingly hostile environment.

Russian civil society has a crucial role to play in providing support and advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights in the absence of state protection. As Olga Baranova, director of the Moscow Community Center for LGBT+ Initiatives, emphasized, it is essential to create safe spaces and maintain connections with the international community to ensure the rights of LGBTQ+ people are upheld.