Top Russian court bans LGBT movement, brands activists as ‘extremists’

President Vladimir Putin, expected shortly to announce that he will seek a new six-year term in March, has long sought to promote an image of Russia as a guardian of traditional moral values in contrast with a decadent West.

December 01, 2023 01:18 pm | Updated 06:00 pm IST - MOSCOW

File picture of LGBT activists in St. Petersburg, Russia.

File picture of LGBT activists in St. Petersburg, Russia. | Photo Credit: AP

Russia's Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that LGBT activists should be designated as extremists, in a move that representatives of gay and transgender people say will lead to arrests and prosecutions.

A court announced that it had approved a request from the justice ministry to recognise "the international LGBT social movement" as extremist and to ban its activities.

The move is part of a string of laws outlawing the promotion of "non-traditional" sexual relations and banning legal or medical changes of gender.

President Vladimir Putin, expected shortly to announce that he will seek a new six-year term in March, has long sought to promote an image of Russia as a guardian of traditional moral values in contrast with a decadent West.

In a speech last year, he said the West was welcome to adopt "rather strange, in my view, new-fangled trends like dozens of genders, and gay parades" but had no right to impose them on other countries.

Mr. Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters before the court decision was announced that the Kremlin was "not following" the case and had no comment on it.

The Supreme Court took only just over two hours to issue its ruling. The proceedings were closed to media, but reporters were allowed in to hear the decision.

LGBT activists had seen the decision as inevitable after the November 17 request by the justice ministry, which said that "various signs and manifestations of extremist orientation, including the incitement of social and religious discord" had been identified in the activities of the LGBT movement in Russia.

"Of course it’s very alarming, and I don’t remember the threat ever being so serious and real," Alexei Sergeyev, an LGBT activist in St Petersburg, told Reuters TV in an interview earlier this month.

More than 100 groups are already banned in Russia as "extremist". Previous listings, for example of the Jehovah's Witnesses religious movement and organisations linked to opposition politician Alexei Navalny, have served as a prelude to arrests.

Mr. Sergeyev said activities such as psychological and legal support, or even "meetings where you can just sit and drink tea", would be driven underground, depriving many LGBT people of support.

"They will either commit suicide or simply be in some terrible state - their life will be shortened and their health will deteriorate, they will drink and smoke more, and so on, somehow trying to escape from this reality."

U.N. Human Rights chief slams move

U.N. human rights chief Volker Turk criticised the ruling, calling for it to be repealed.

“I call on the Russian authorities to repeal, immediately, laws that place improper restrictions on the work of human rights defenders or that discriminate against LGBT people,” Turk said in a statement.

Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the U.N. Human Rights Office, said the LBGT community’s situation Russia was “just going from bad to worse”, with its members fearing arrest and prosecution.

She added that the lack of clarity around the court’s definition of LGBT movement left the law open to abuse.

Homosexuality in Russia

Homosexuality in Russia was a criminal offence until 1993, and classified as a mental illness until 1999. Since 2013, Russia has criminalised the “propaganda” of non-traditional sexual orientations to children.

Last year, that law was expanded to criminalise any action considered an attempt to promote homosexuality in public, online, or in movies, books or advertising. 

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