February 16, 2022 Philadelphia Gay News
Russian Justice Ministry seeks to “liquidate” LGBT organization
As Russia encroaches on Ukraine and causes a furor at the Olympics over doping, at home, the government continues to attack LGBTQ people. According to Human Rights Watch, Russia’s Justice Ministry has filed a lawsuit seeking to “liquidate” Sphere Foundation, the legal name under which the Russian LGBT Network operates. The Russian LGBT Network is a non-governmental LGBT rights organization working for the social acceptance of and protection of the rights of LGBT people in Russia. During Chechnya’s anti-gay purge in 2017, the network led the advocacy efforts to stop abuses and evacuate survivors.
The lawsuit asserts that the network’s activities run contrary to “traditional values” — a common theme regularly used in Eastern Europe, as PGN has reported about Poland and Hungary.
According to the Press Service for St. Petersburg Courts, the ministry’s lawsuit argues that “all the activities of Sphere run contrary to the state policy designed to preserve, expand and develop [the country’s] human capital.” The ministry also accuses Sphere of spreading “LGBT views” and working with people under the age of 18, aspiring, among other things, to “change Russian federal legislation regarding the LGBT movement,” that is the discriminatory “gay propaganda” law PGN has previously reported on.
The suit asserts that if the work of a non-profit organization does not align with the “fundamental family values enshrined in the Russian constitution,” then it is “a threat to public order and the rule of law.”
Sphere Foundation was founded in 2011 by Russian LGBT rights activist Igor Kochetkov. In 2016, authorities designated Sphere Foundation a “foreign agent.” In 2021, Russian LGBT Network and Kochetkov personally were also given the “foreign agent” designation, which puts people at high risk for targeted attacks. HRW notes that “state-sponsored media organized a vicious smear campaign against the network and Kochetkov.”
In a social media post, Kochetkov said, “During [its] 11 years, Sphere … was never found in breach of any regulations. The government’s claims against us are ideological, rather than law-based.”
After years of interfering with the work of LGBT rights activists and restricting their actions by application of the “foreign agent” and “gay propaganda” laws, Russian authorities have now moved to completely shut down the organization.
HRW said, “The courts should not be compliant with this act of political, homophobic censorship that blatantly violate Russia’s human rights obligations.”
Tanya Lokshina, associate director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, told NBC News that there is an “ongoing, very disturbing trend of stifling independent voices in Russia.”
She added, “If you’re gay, as long as you hide it, as long as you do not speak up… it’s OK, but if you speak up… it becomes a very serious problem. The Russian government is ready to tolerate gay people as long as they’re in the closet.”
In a statement to NBC News, Dilya Gafurova, a spokesperson for the Sphere Foundation, said, “From the point of view of the Russian government, our very activity goes against the state ideology of traditional values. However, despite the whims of the political climate, LGBT+ people exist. We refuse to give up and let the government shut us down; we refuse to agree that the very activity of helping LGBT+ people does not correspond to the idea of ‘charity,’ as is stated in their claim.”
Gafurova added, “LGBT+ people are the citizens of this country just like every other social group and deserve the same rights and freedoms, [but it] seems more and more like the government is trying to make any LGBT+ activism taboo.”
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