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Russia’s Supreme Court bans LGBTQ+ activism in landmark ruling

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TALLINN, Estonia — Russia’s Supreme Court effectively banned LGBTQ+ activism on Thursday, the most drastic measure against gay, lesbian and transgender rights advocates in the increasingly conservative country.

In response to a complaint filed by the Justice Department, the court labeled what the complaint calls the LGBTQ+ “movement” operating in Russia an extremist organization and banned it.

The move is the latest step in a decade of crackdown on LGBTQ+ rights in Russia under President Vladimir Putin, who has emphasized “traditional family values” during his 24 years in power.

Thursday’s closed hearing lasted four hours. No one except Justice Department officials was allowed in and there were no defendants. Journalists were only led into the courtroom for the reading of the verdict by judge Oleg Nefedov, who wore a mask, apparently for health reasons.

The case was closed and the ministry released no evidence, saying only that authorities had identified “signs and manifestations of an extremist nature” in the movement it seeks to ban, including “incitement to social and religious discord.

Many human rights activists have pointed out that the lawsuit was filed against a movement that is not an official entity and that, under its broad and vague definition, Russian authorities could repress any individual or group considered to be in violation. part.

“In practice, it could happen that Russian authorities, with this court decision in hand, apply (the ruling) against LGBTQ+ initiatives operating in Russia, considering them as part of this civic movement,” said Max Olenichev, human rights defender. lawyer who works with the Russian LGBTQ+ community, contacted by the Associated Press before the ruling.

The lawsuit targets activists and effectively bans any organized activity to defend the rights of LGBTQ+ people, Olenichev added.

Several Russian independent media outlets and rights groups have added rainbow symbols to their social media logos in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.

Amnesty International called the decision “shameful and absurd,” warning that it could lead to a blanket ban on LGBTQ+ organizations, violate freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly, and lead to discrimination.

“This will affect countless people and its repercussions could be nothing short of catastrophic,” said Marie Struthers, the group’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

A spokesperson for the Russian Orthodox Church welcomed the move, telling the official RIA Novosti news agency that it was a “form of moral self-defense of society” in the face of efforts to remove “the Christian idea of ​​marriage and the family in the public and legal domain”. .”

The Justice Department had no comment.

Ahead of the ruling, prominent Russian human rights groups filed a document with the court calling the trial “anti-lawful,” discriminatory and a violation of the constitution and international rights treaties. of the man signed by Moscow. Some LGBTQ+ activists said they tried to become a party to the lawsuit but were turned away by the court.

“We tried to find legal logic in this absurdity,” said Igor Kochetkov, a human rights defender and founder of the Russian LGBT rights group.

“We tried to appeal to the common sense of the Supreme Court and say, ‘Look, here I am, a person who has been involved in LGBT activism for years, promoting these ideas – human rights ideas , mind you — and this trial concerns me,’” he told the AP.

“They don’t want a trial,” Kochetkov added. “They don’t want to address this issue. This is a political order and they are following it. This is, by and large, the end of any form of justice in Russia.”

In 2013, the Kremlin passed the first law restricting LGBTQ+ rights, known as the “gay propaganda” law, banning public support for “non-traditional sexual relations” between minors. In 2020, constitutional reforms imposed by Putin to extend his rule for two more terms also included a provision banning same-sex marriage.

After sending troops to Ukraine in 2022, the Kremlin stepped up its campaign against what it called “degrading” Western influence, in what rights advocates saw as an attempt to legitimize the war. The same year, authorities passed a law banning propaganda of “non-traditional sexual relations” between adults, also banning any public support for LGBTQ+ people.

Another law passed this year bans gender transition procedures and gender-affirming care for transgender people. The legislation prohibits any “medical intervention aimed at changing the sex of a person,” as well as sex reassignment in official documents and public records. It also amended the Russian Family Code by listing sex change as grounds for annulment of a marriage and adding those “who have changed sex” to the list of people who cannot become foster parents or adoptive.

“Do we really want to have here, in our country, in Russia, “parent No. 1, No. 2, No. 3” instead of “mom” and “dad”? “, Putin said in September 2022. “Do we really want perversions that lead to degradation and extinction to be imposed in our schools from primary school?

Authorities reject accusations of LGBTQ+ discrimination. Earlier this month, Russian media cited Deputy Justice Minister Andrei Loginov as saying that “the rights of LGBT people in Russia are protected” legally. He presented a report on human rights in Russia to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, saying that “restricting the public manifestation of non-traditional sexual relationships or preferences is not a form of censorship against them.

Olenichev said the Supreme Court’s decision ushers in a number of restrictions, such as participating in, assisting or financing extremist organizations; publicly use certain logos and symbols associated with them; or by publicly endorsing the ideas they propagate. But even if the ban on carrying out activities of an extremist organization imposed by a court comes into force immediately, these restrictions will come into force 30 days after the decision, if the accused does not appeal.

The exact nature of these restrictions – including which symbols will be banned – remains unclear because the case is classified and will only become apparent in the first legal actions against the activists, Olenichev added, although violating them puts people at risk. to prosecution and possible prosecution. prison sentences.

This will likely lead to a decrease in legal, psychological and other aid and support provided to LGBTQ+ people in Russia by rights groups and popular initiatives, he said, and will make the community itself and his needs less visible.

“The authorities are doing everything to ensure that the LGBT agenda disappears from the public square,” he added.

Many people will consider leaving Russia before being targeted to be the only option, said Olga Baranova, director of the Moscow Community Center for LGBT+ Initiatives.

“It is clear to us that they are once again presenting us as an internal enemy to distract attention from all the other problems that abound in Russia,” Baranova told AP.

Others are determined to stay and continue working with the LGBTQ+ community.

Dasha Yakovleva said Feminitive, a women’s group she co-founded, is the only group in Russia’s far-western Kaliningrad region that, in addition to defending women’s rights, offers currently supporting LGBTQ+ people and will “look for ways” to continue.

She told AP she sees value in helping LGBTQ+ people exercise their rights.

“Since our state does not intend to do this, it is the duty of our civil society to try to be an island of security, defense, a link with the international community,” Yakovleva said.

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