A Russian court has effectively shut down the country’s largest LGBTQ rights organization after a failed government attempt to liquidate Russia’s LGBT network and its parent organization, the Charitable Sphere Foundation, in February.
A St. Petersburg court issued the decision on Thursday in support of Russia’s Justice Ministry. A ministry official had claimed that the Charitable Sphere Foundation was “illegally carrying out political activities using foreign assets” under the guise of a charity organization and said its activities were aimed at changing legislation, including the Russian Constitution. In its lawsuit, the Russian government also accused the group of spreading “LGBT views” and engaging in activities contrary to “traditional values”.
The foundation’s founder, Igor Kochetkov, a former director of the Russian LGBT network, criticized the court’s decision and the government’s claim that the charity failed to respect “core traditional family values established in the Constitution”.
“It should be clear that the ministry and the court made this decision not on a legal basis, but on an ideological basis,” he wrote on social media, according to a machine translation from Facebook. “No Russian law prohibits the activity of organizations that ‘do not correspond’ to any value. There is simply no such basis in law for the liquidation of NGOs. In this sense, the court’s decision is emblematic – the ideology of the compulsory state is back. It is now official. »
Dilya Gafurova, spokesperson for the foundation, said that despite the judge’s ruling, the group is not backing down.
“We plan to appeal the judge’s decision, as we consider this case to be a key case for the LGBT+ movement in the history of modern Russia,” Gafurova said in an email. “Ideology should not prevail over law, and the Russian government should recognize LGBT+ people as a social group, as its own citizens who exist and whose rights should and can be protected.”
The St. Petersburg-based Russian LGBT network is known for taking action against the country’s anti-LGBTQ policies and actions, including Chechnya’s anti-gay purgewhich began making international headlines in 2017, and the 2013 “Gay Propaganda” Act, which prohibits the “promotion of non-traditional sexual relations to minors”.
Coinciding with the court ruling, lawyers say they are seeing an increase in calls from LGBTQ people seeking mental health, emergency and legal services. Even in the face of closure, Gafurova said, the organization’s main priority is to help the community.
“We will seek justice in this case, we recognize that there is little room for respect for human rights in today’s Russia,” Gafurova wrote. “And that’s exactly why Russian LGBT+ people need help now more than ever. … This is precisely why the Sphere team believes that it is not possible to stop doing what we do.