On November 30, following a motion from the Ministry of Justice, Russia’s Supreme Court declared the “international LGBT movement” extremist, effectively banning it nationwide and putting it on a par with the likes of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Ironically, such an organization does not exist. More precisely, it didn't exist until recently — while the court was considering the case, activists registered a legal entity under the name so that only they, rather than all LGBT people in Russia, would be recognized as extremist.
Meanwhile, no one has yet seen the original motion by the Department of Justice or the ruling by the Supreme Court. It is unclear what exactly will now be considered extremism, and how a person can be recognized as part of this “international movement” is also unknown. Hardly anyone understands what awaits human rights organisations that help members of the LGBT community in Russia. Lawyer Maxim Olenichev, who specialises in LGBT rights and works for the legal aid group Perviy Otdel, helped answer some of the key questions.
What will happen when the Supreme Court's decision comes into force in January
If the court has produced the full text of the decision, it will enter into force on January 10, 2024. If the court has exercised the right to delay the production of the full text for up to two weeks, it will take effect until January 15, 2024.
From then on, the following will be banned (and administrative or criminal liability may apply for violations):
- demonstrating LGBT symbols (all rainbow symbols will likely fall under the ban, but lawyers do not know exactly): both online (even if they are in previously published posts, but are on the Internet when the court decision comes into force) or offline (for example, wearing a badge with symbols). A first offence will carry administrative liability (fine from 1 thousand to 2 thousand roubles or administrative arrest up to 15 days);
- taking part in online and offline support groups, group consultations organized by LGBT initiatives, and organizing such events on behalf of LGBT initiatives;
- sharing posts published of LGBT initiatives;
- making donations to Russian LGBT initiatives and projects;
- Inviting people to Russian LGBT initiatives’ offline and online events.
The following will be allowed (even after the court decision comes into force):
- receive professional help from doctors, psychologists, lawyers and other specialists working in their personal capacity or in commercial organizations;
- possess and read LGBT literature (but if the publication has rainbow symbols on it, the authorities may consider reading such literature in a public place — such as public transport — to be a “demonstration of [LGBT] symbols”);
- reading, liking and subscribing to LGBT initiative websites and blogs;
- attend LGBT-themed cultural events that are not related to the protection of the rights of LGBT people.
Should we expect that those who received fines for “homosexual propaganda” will now face real time in prison?
In my opinion, there will be no criminal proceedings in respect of activities which have already been carried out. According to Russian law, there is liability for participating or organizing the activities of an extremist group (it arises in the case of continued participation from the date of the court decision coming into force — no earlier than January 10, 2024). There is also liability for creating and participating in an extremist community. The law enforcement authorities may initiate an investigation and criminal proceedings for this participation, regardless of whether the organization is deemed extremist.
In this case, however, they have to prove that such a community was actually created and in practice pursued illegal goals that fall under the concept of extremism. None of the Russian LGBT initiatives pursued such goals. Moreover, the state, which was aware of their activities, did not make any claims against them. That’s why we’ll most likely not see such criminal cases: it’s difficult to investigate them, it’s easier to prosecute for “participating” and “organizing” the activities of an extremist organization (as in the case of the so-called “international LGBT movement”).
Can cases on the creation of an extremist community be brought against already existing organizations, as in the case of Navalny campaigner Liliya Chanysheva?
Lilia Chanysheva's case arose after Navalny's Headquarters were recognized as an extremist organization, but she was charged for actions committed prior to that — namely, the “creation of an extremist group.” The purpose of this case is to spread fear among people who took part in or supported Navalny's HQs. I think that law enforcement will take a different path in this case: they’ll prosecute for “continued participation” or for “organizng the activities” of an “extremist group” after the Supreme Court's decision comes into force. They’ll consider both administrative offences and criminal cases. I hope that the latter will be few, unless the authorities decide to increase the pressure.
Can LGBT people receive asylum abroad?
Asylum still requires personal persecution of the asylum seeker. Of course, asylum granting countries assess whether the country of origin is safe for the asylum seeker due to persecution, based on the laws and their implementation practices. The recognition of the 'international public LGBT movement' as extremist shows the context of persecution of LGBT people in Russia. But to obtain refugee status, one must provide evidence of personal persecution: a refusal to prosecute for homophobic or transphobic violence, persecution at work based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and the state's refusal to protect the individual.
Relating to the Russian Supreme Court ‘s recent decision, this could be an administrative protocol for the demonstration of rainbow-colored symbols (we do not yet know if the authorities will consider them to be “extremist,” as the text of the decision is not available to the public) or other cases related to the prosecution of extremism.
At the same time, we are informing the people who decide on the granting of refugee status about the situation in Russia. We want them to take into account the results of the state's homophobic and transphobic campaign when granting refugee status. If you apply for refugee status (you can only apply for refugee status if you are already in a safe country), you need to be prepared for the following: if the state provides you with housing for the first time, it will not be of the best quality, and you may have to live in refugee camps without the right to work and other restrictions while your refugee application is being considered. It can take from several months to several years for the application to be processed.