Russia: Queerfest organisers say police ‘threatened’ venues to shut down

PinkNews logo on a pink background surrounded by illustrated line drawings of a rainbow, pride flag, unicorn and more.

Organisers of Queerfest, an LGBT festival in St Petersburg which was attacked with a harmful gas last week, have criticised police for deliberately pressuring venues to shut down ahead of hosting events.

The annual LGBT culture festival had been forced out of its original venue last week, and was later raided by homophobic thugs after having moved to a new venue at the last minute.

The assailants sprayed harmful “putrid gas” and left 16 hospitalised after the event.

It was also reported that one of the events was disrupted by a bomb threat, while a press conference titled ‘Who is Shutting Down QueerFest?’ was ironically shut down by police because “violations of public order may ensue”.

According to The St Petersburg Times, organisers have now accused police officers of attempting to shut down a news conference on September 24 which was set to speak about the pressure and attacks against Queerfest.

Anna Sharogradskaya, the director of the Institute of Regional Press, said: “Several minutes before the press conference began, a police colonel-lieutenant and a major tried to persuade me to cancel it, saying that everybody present could be endangered and that if anything happened, the organisation that provided its premises for [the representatives of Queerfest] to speak there would be held accountable.

“I categorically denied that our functions include providing security and said that in my view it should be done by police officers, who, as you may have noticed, are stationed on every corner.”

The police also reportedly pressured the LGBT club 3L, forcing organisers to make the concert shorter, as well as the final event hosted at the LGBT club Infinity, which continued nevertheless.

Organiser Anna Anisimova said: “Uniformed and plain-clothes officers came and asked questions that had nothing to do with the safety of the event but were clearly meant to intimidate the manager.

“They went so far as to say that criminal cases might be opened if it proceeded with the event; they threatened all kinds of inspections and said that the club was sure to be shut down. But somehow the club held out and said it still wanted to hold the Queerfest event. [The police] spoke with the security guards and also called the club’s director.”

According to Ms Anisimova, she spoke to both local and national commissioners for human rights about the police pressure on Queerfest.

She said: “They said they are ready to look into it if the venues give them the names of the officers, but honestly speaking, the venues were so intimidated that they did not write anything down and were stunned by the fact that the police could behave like this.”

Vyacheslav Stepchenko, a police spokesman, told The St Petersburg Times: “I have no information about it.

“It is not the task of the police, that’s why such things could not take place.”