Some social activists believe that this sudden shift can potentially threaten not just human rights organizations but virtually any Russian citizen.
The Russian Ministry of Justice has called for the Supreme Court to categorize LGBTQ+ individuals as part of an "extremist international movement." This demand has sparked significant confusion and concern as the acronym LGBTQ+ refers to individuals—lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people—rather than an organized movement.
Merely four days prior, Andrei Loginov, the Deputy Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation, stated at the UN that “Russia upholds legislative practices to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ citizens”. He emphasized that “discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited under existing legislation”.
The sudden strict stance appears to be linked to the upcoming presidential elections, according to a source close to the Kremlin cited by Russian news site Vorstka.
“The authorities aim to unify the population in some way. This 'movement' encompasses a broad spectrum of people—LGBTQ individuals in general. It seems to be a move for publicity on one hand, while on the other, it grants the authorities broader control, which the Kremlin tends to favor,” the source said.
Designating the LGBTQ+ people an "extremist organisation" poses a significant threat to human rights activists in this field. The legal ramifications are severe, with potential sentences of up to five years in prison for inciting social disturbance, and up to 12 years for addressing an extremist group.
As there isn't a concrete organization to target with this court decision, its impact is rather vague. However, authorities might interpret this decision broadly, potentially implicating specific LGBTQ+ initiatives or activists as part of this "extremist movement."
“This scenario creates the risk of subjecting LGBTQ+ activists to criminal liability,” explains Maxim Olenichev, a lawyer for the Coming Out group. “Participation, organization, and funding of related activities will become illegal.”
Severe But Vague
Moreover, this new stricture targeting LGBTQ+ individuals could potentially affect not just human rights organizations but virtually any Russian citizen, some social activists believe.
Alexandra Miroshnikova, press secretary of the crisis group SK SOS, highlighted concerns regarding the Ministry of Justice's recent press release:
"The Ministry of Justice seems dissatisfied with certain activities of the LGBTQ+ movement, but it's unclear what exactly is being referred to as 'activities.' While there exist LGBTQ+ human rights organizations, there's no centralized collective intelligence or organization that could be outright banned."
Discussing LGBTQ+ individuals could become entirely illegal
Miroshnikova warned that any public endeavors aimed at safeguarding LGBTQ+ rights or even organizing educational programs on these issues might now be deemed extremist.
"Effectively, discussing LGBTQ+ individuals could become entirely illegal," she said.
Miroshnikova highlighted Russia's existing ban on displaying LGBTQ+ symbols, such as rainbow flags, under the "LGBT propaganda" law, which remains vague on what constitutes "propaganda".
“The law does not specify in any way what propaganda is. This is a key complaint of many human rights organizations. It oppresses not only a certain group, it can be used as a tool against any unwanted person,” said Miroshnikova.
The activist also recalled instances where heterosexual individuals fell victim to anti-LGBTQ+ action. One such case involved designer Elnara Askerova from Makhachkala, who was accused of pushing LGBTQ+ propaganda after organizing a fashion show in Dagestan.
"There were concerns about the men appearing too feminine, leading to assumptions that she was promoting LGBTQ+ individuals," Miroshnikova explained.
A lively Moscow Pride back in 2014
Room For Optimism?
Lawyer Maxim Olenichev remains more optimistic.
“LGBTQ+ people who do not participate in LGBTQ+ initiatives will not be held accountable for the very fact that they are LGBT people,” he says. “But it will be difficult to discuss issues that concern LGBTQ+ people, hold events for them and provide assistance.”
The head of communications at the Sphere Foundation, Noel Shaida, fears that banning LGBTQ+ people as a “movement” in Russia will increase censorship.
“I think any non-critical mention of LGBTQ+ people will now be equated to involvement in extremist activities,” says Shaida. “It is difficult to predict how stringent our government will be. And how many people will now not get the help they need.”
She expects that human rights activists will have to “go underground” as it becomes impossible to openly call for the abolition of discrimination.
"Because of all the risks, I doubt many people will take action. When the law intensifying restrictions of LGBTQ+ propaganda came in last year, numerous organizations halted their activities. The only hope now is for a potential improvement in visa situations for LGBTQ+ individuals from Russia. This seems to be the only positive outcome that might arise from these developments," Shaida concluded.