Russian government launches chilling bid to ‘liquidate’ LGBT network: ‘Persecution at its finest’

LGBT+ people demonstrate in Saint Petersburg, Russia

The Russian government wants to “liquidate” a major human rights organisation with ties to the Russian LGBT Network for being contrary to “traditional values”.

The Justice Ministry filed a lawsuit Tuesday (8 February) against the Sphere Charitable Foundation, a human rights association and the legal entity under which the Russian LGBT Network has operated under for nearly two decades.

In legal documents sent to the Saint Petersburg Court, the ministry argued that “all the activities of Sphere run contrary to the state policy designed to preserve, expand and develop [the country’s] human capital,” according to a Telegram post by the court’s press service.

The Russian LGBT Network, a network of activist organisations scattered across 13 regions, has evacuated survivors of Chechnya’s anti-LGBT+ pogrom, run support hotlines and arranged the first Pride parade in Saint Petersburg.

But to the Kremlin, the Sphere, which carries out the programmes and initiatives of the network, serves to spread “LGBT views” and seeks to “change Russian federal legislation regarding the LGBT movement” – chiefly, the country’s so-called “gay propaganda law” that bans the promotion of queer topics to underage youth.

‘This is political persecution at its finest,’ says LGBT+ activist 

The lawsuit even tore into how the Sphere promotes “equal rights and respect for human dignity regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity”.

Such a stance, it said, is at odds with state policy and means it “poses as a threat to public order and the rule of law”.

Igor Kochetkov, who founded the Sphere Charitable Network in 2011, shrugged off the Justice Ministry’s lawsuit.

“This is political persecution at its finest,” he said in a Facebook post on Tuesday, “and the Ministry of Justice, this time, is not even trying to hide it.

“That’s why they’re going to eliminate us. For the fact that our activities are not ‘in line with state policy’.”

The lawsuit comes after the Kremlin and state-sponsored media have moved increasingly more aggressively to stifle the Russian LGBT Network.

Igor Kochetkov, Russian gay rights activist and head of the Russian LGBT Network. (BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images)

In 2016, the authorities designated the Sphere Foundation a “foreign agent”.

Under law, all non-profits that receive financing outside of Russia must register as a foreign agent and all messages they put out must acknowledge that – if they don’t, they face fines or are even forcibly shut down. They must also file regular financial statements on their activities every six months to the authorities and be scrutinised through annual audits.

The term was later handed to the Russian LGBT Network and Kochetkov.

Finally shutting the group down, less than two months after Russia’s Supreme Court ordered the liquidation of the human rights organisation Memorial International, would be another step in Vladimir Putin’s efforts to recast Russia as a nation where LGBT+ people seemingly don’t exist.

Even though similar laws are already in the books, in 2020 Putin sought to legislate against marriage equality and same-sex adoption as well as trying to legally erase trans people on a constitutional level.

He even dedicated his sprawling end of year address last year to comparing trans rights to “strains” of the coronavirus.

Since 2017, authorities in Chechnya, a semiautonomous region in Russia, have conducted a brutal crackdown on queer people that included abductions, torture and killings.

Only recently did the Council of Europe, the continent’s largest human rights organisation, slam Russia as well as Britain and Hungary for launching “virulent attacks” against LGBT rights.