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Russian government labels LGBTQ+ advocacy groups ‘foreign agents’

The Russian LGBT Network has advocated for civil rights in Russia since 2006 & has 17 branches across the country



Russian human rights activists protest in Moscow, August 15, 2012, (Photo by Andrew Nasonov)

MOSCOW – This past Monday, the Russian Ministry of Justice included the Russian LGBT-Network and five lawyers from the recently dissolved human rights group, Komanda 29 (Team 29), including its founder Ivan Pavlov, a prominent lawyer, on the list of ‘foreign agents.’

This latest move by Russian authorities is continuing a months-long crackdown on activists, opposition supporters and independent media. The government has designated a number of independent media outlets, journalists and human rights groups as “foreign agents.” At least two disbanded to avoid a further crackdown.

The Russian LGBT Network has advocated for civil rights in Russia since 2006 and has 17 branches across the country. The group is well-known both in Russia and abroad for its effort to rescue gay men and lesbians from Chechnya.

They played a crucial role in the exposure of a brutal ‘anti-gay’ campaign in Chechnya during which dozens of men were abducted, tortured and several believed to have been killed for their real or perceived sexual orientation. The group also provided shelter for victims of homophobic attacks from Chechnya and elsewhere around the country, and helped with their relocation to safer locations within and outside Russia.

The Russian LGBT Network said in a statement that it would continue to operate and contest the designation in court | Screenshot via Facebook

“We don’t know why we have been declared a ‘foreign agent.’ The Russian LGBT Network disagrees with this status. We are not involved in political activities, we offer legal and psychological aid (and) defend the rights of the LGBT+ community,” the statement on the group’s Facebook page read. The statement added that the group would continue to operate and contest the designation in court.

Team 29, was an association of lawyers and journalists specializing in treason and espionage cases and freedom of information issues. Team 29 shut down earlier this year, fearing prosecution of its members and supporters, after authorities accused the group of spreading content from a Czech nongovernmental organization that had been declared “undesirable” in Russia.

Ivan Pavlov and his colleagues have courageously provided help to civil society and political activists and groups that have been targeted by the authorities, including Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

In April, Russian authorities launched a criminal case against Pavlov, who was representing a former Russian journalist accused of treason. They accused Pavlov, who has since left Russia and resettled in Georgia, of disclosing information related to a police investigation, the Associated Press reported.

Russian human rights activists protest in Moscow, August 15, 2012 (Photo by Andrew Nasonov)

Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director, in a statement released to international media outlets said:

“Beyond shameful, the justice ministry’s decision reveals that committed, principled lawyers defending the rights of people targeted in politically motivated cases and frontline LGBTI rights defenders are unwelcome and ‘foreign’ in Putin’s Russia.

“LGBT-Network has exposed heinous crimes against gay men in Chechnya and helped evacuate people at risk to safety where they can speak about these atrocities. Now LGBT-Network is, itself, a victim of the persecution that is being increasingly targeted at all human rights defenders – openly, viciously and cynically.

“The authorities cite the need to protect ‘national interests’ and resist ‘foreign influence’ in their incessant destruction of Russia’s civil society. But what’s really in the national interest is to protect, uphold and respect all human rights for everyone.

“These reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organisations must stop, and the ‘foreign agents’ and ‘undesirable organisations’ laws must be repealed immediately.”

In an article published this past July, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty’s correspondent Todd Prince explains that a Council of Europe legal advisory body has sharply criticized recent Russian amendments to laws regulating so-called ‘’foreign agents,” saying they constitute “serious violations” of basic human rights and will have a “chilling effect” on political life.

In a report analyzing the amendments, published on July 6, the Venice Commission, which is composed of independent experts in the field of constitutional law, called on Russia to reverse aspects of its “foreign agents” laws such as registration and reporting requirements, or alternatively revise “the entire body” of the legislation by narrowing the definition of a “foreign agent.

The commission warned in its 26-page report that the amendments will have a “significant chilling effect…on the free exercise of the civil and political rights which are vital for an effective democracy.”

It further said the broadened scope of the “foreign agents” legislation allows authorities “to exercise significant control over the activities and existence of associations as well as over the participation of individuals in civic life.

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Hidden in plain view, Russian photographer defies country’s anti-gay law

“For me, it was important, firstly, to give the Russian male audience the opportunity to see their ideas about sexuality from the outside”



With Love from Russia (Photo Credit: Vlad Zorin)

MOSCOW- Since the passage of the measure known colloquially as the “gay propaganda law” by the Russian parliament and signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013, which ostensibly makes any act or event that authorities deem to promote homosexuality to minors illegal and punishable by a fine, it has had broader scope of enforcement by Russian authorities.

The overall effect has been chilling on the country’s LGBTQ community to freely express itself in public spaces, which has led a partial return to circumstances of existing underground in Russian society, although not to the degree as was the case during the era of the former Soviet Union.

The more pronounced effect on chilling freedom of expression has been the legislation deployed by authorities across Russia to prevent LGBTQ+ Pride parades and detain LGBTQ activists.

The passage of the law has also been accompanied by an increase in anti-LGBTQ violence in the country, according to The Russian LGBT Network and Human Rights Watch, both non-governmental organizations which advocate for LGBTQ civil and human rights.

However, the law has also had a detrimental effect on scores of Russian artists, photographers, filmmakers and others who fear running afoul of the interpretation and application of the law by oft times homophobic authorities. There are those in the greater Russian artist community who have chosen to openly defy Russian censorship and the draconian “gay propaganda law.”

Earlier this month, Vlad Zorin, a Chelyabinsk, Western-Central Russia born artist and photographer published his first book of art photographs that depict intimate portraits of gay men alongside stories about their coming out, sexual awakening, romantic relationships, heartbreaks, and dealing with life in an anti-gay nation.

Zorin, who divides his time between the French capital city of Paris and the Russian capital city of Moscow, spoke with the British bimonthly magazine i-D about his book titled, “With Love from Russia.” Contributing i-D editor Douglas Greenwood wrote in a piece published about Zorin’s work:

With Love from Russia — which Vlad worked on with curator Andrey Lopatin and supporter Ksenia Arturovna Chilingarovafor — is as much about identity as it is about sex. To compile it, he spent months travelling across his homeland, tracking down participants via social media, armed with questions about their ‘Firsts’ and ‘Favourites’. But what unfolded is a bleak and revealing portrayal of what it’s like to navigate queerness in isolated places, and how that can ostracise you even further from the few people you have close. There are stories of brief teenage encounters, girlfriends, discovering pornography, heartbreak and, for some, eventual contentment.

Zorin’s website notes: “Vlad’s artistic language was formed from the analysis of male sexuality, sensuality, and youth experience. Such projects as Hare and God, inspired by Vlad’s partner and muse Yulian, became a personal manifest of love and public call for freedom. Vlad explores the themes of personal freedom, the new generation experience and the reflection of sexuality.

“For me, it was important, firstly, to give the Russian male audience the opportunity to see their ideas about sexuality from the outside — with all the problems that are present in our view, which is why the book contains Russian language,” Zorin told i-D’s Greenwood.

“I wanted it to include English to enable foreign audiences to expand their ideas about sex and sexuality in post-Soviet Russia and because the main message of the book lies outside national borders,” he continued. “With Love from Russia is a book that invites you to reflect on your sexuality, listen to yourself and your desires, compare them with other’s experiences and draw parallels.”


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Brothers returned to Chechnya start hunger strike

Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev fled anti-LGBTQ crackdown



(Bigstock photo)

ANCKNOY-MARTAN, Russia — Two brothers from Chechnya who Russia returned to their homeland from which they had fled have reportedly begun a hunger strike.

The Russian LGBT Network in a press release notes lawyers from the Crisis Group “North Caucasus SOS” who represent Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev on Tuesday “declared the beginning of a hunger strike” after a judge denied their request to move their case from Achknoy-Martan, a locality in Chechnya’s Achkhoy-Martanovsky District, to another court in the semi-autonomous Russian republic.

Chechen authorities in April 2020 arrested Magamadov and Isaev after they made a series of posts on Osal Nakh 95, a Telegram channel used by opponents of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Chechen authorities reportedly forced the brothers to make “apology videos” after they were tortured.

The Russian LGBT Network helped Magamadov and Isaev flee Chechnya after their release. Police in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod on Feb. 4 arrested the brothers and transferred them to the custody of Chechen authorities.

The Russian LGBT Network says Magamadov and Isaev have been held in a prison in Grozny, the Chechen capital, for “more than 10 months.” The brothers’ lawyer has said Magmadov and Isaev have been tortured.

The anti-LGBTQ crackdown in Chechnya has sparked worldwide outrage.

The U.S. in 2017 sanctioned Kadyrov under the Magnitsky Act, which freezes the assets of Russian citizens who commit human rights abuses and bans them from entering the U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price after Russian authorities arrested Magamadov and Isaev said the U.S. is “profoundly concerned” over their case.

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Russian Interior Ministry launches probe into Netflix’s ‘LGBTQ’ content

Part of the political pressure to further restrict LGBTQ+ equality stems from anti-LGBTQ+ remarks made by Russian President Vladimir Putin



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MOSCOW – Olga Baranets- the “public commissioner for the protection of the family” accused the American streaming giant Netflix of violating the 2013 Russian law regarding what the Russian government deems “gay propaganda.”

In a formal complaint filed with the Russian Interior Ministry, Baranets, a resident of the Russian capital, alleged that Netflix was violating the law’s provisions that prohibit “propaganda on non-traditional sexual relations among Russians under the age of 18” when Netflix broadcast LGBTQ+ themed series with a 16+ label.

A source for the Russian Interior Ministry told the Blade on Sunday that it is investigating the matter. The law requires that there is a 30-day deadline for responding to such inquiries, Baranets sent her complaint to the Ministry of Internal Affairs on November 10.

A person familiar with the Russian government probe and Baranets’ complaint but not authorized to speak to the media at Netflix’s European headquarters in Amsterdam said that it was doubtful the company violated the tenets of the so-called “gay propaganda” law. The source added that company had found no series and films about the lives of LGBTQs with a 16+ label when it checked earlier this month that would have been available in the Russian Federation.

Netflix’s “colorful collection of films and TV series tells about the lives of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people,” Baranets told Vedomosti, a Russian-language business daily newspaper, which first reported the story.

Vedomosti noted that should Netflix be found guilty of violating the law it could face a fine of up to $1 million rubles, ($11,844.48 Euros)-($13,400 USD) or a temporary suspension of its service for 90 days.

The Moscow Times reported that earlier this month, a Moscow court fined Russia’s Muz-TV music video channel 1 million rubles ($14,000) after its awards show featured gender-flipping stars and what viewers said resembled a same-sex wedding.

The Russian internet watchdog agency Roskomnadzor, the state media and communications regulator, has stepped up its efforts to implement sweeping bans of so-called “perverted” television shows and movies on all streaming platforms in addition to the complaints about Netflix.

Officials are also working with Vitaly Milonov, deputy chairman of the Committee on Family Affairs, Women, and Children, in the Russian State Duma, (Parliament) to sponsor legislation that would make changes to three laws that regulate media, regulate the protection of children from harmful content and banning displays of “gay propaganda” toward Russians under the age of 18.

Interviewed by RIA Novosti, the state-controlled news agency last week, Milanov told the news outlet that “Russian citizens don’t want such content to be broadcast widely.” He then added that “the legal solution to this situation is just around the corner. Whoever wants can have special access to such videos as well as with pornography.”

The English language Moscow Times reported that Russian film distributors in recent years have edited LGBTQ sex scenes and characters from movies before they were shown in theaters. Roskomnadzor’s proposed rules would for the first time affect online streaming and could lead to movies like “50 Shades of Grey” and shows like “Billions” being blocked by Russian internet providers.

Milanov has long been a vocal fierce opponent of the LGBTQ+ community. Legislation authored by him while as an elected official in St. Petersburg was later the boiler-plate model for the national 2013 ” gay propaganda ” law. This past August he stated that LGBTQ+ people are the “lowest stage of development of the animal world” and should be “sterilized” as stray cats are.

Part of the political pressure to further restrict LGBTQ+ equality stems from anti-LGBTQ+ remarks made by Russian President Vladimir Putin in a speech he made in October in Sochi.

The Russian president  accused “monstrous” Western countries of forcing “transgenderism” onto children.

We’re surprised to see things happening in countries that see themselves as flagships of progress… The struggle for equality and against discrimination turns into aggressive dogmatism verging on absurdity.”

People who dare to say that men and women still exist as a biological fact are almost ostracized… Not to mention the simply monstrous fact that children today are taught from a young age that a boy can easily become a girl and vice versa.

Let’s call a spade a spade: This simply verges on crimes against humanity under the banner of progress.”

Roskomnadzor head Andrei Lipov reportedly cited Putin’s Sochi speech as justification for the proposed streaming bans.

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