Russia’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that LGBT activists should be labeled “extremists,” in a move that gay and transgender advocates fear will lead to arrests and prosecutions.
The presiding judge announced that he had upheld a Justice Department request to ban what he called “the international LGBT social movement.”
The move is part of a pattern of increasing restrictions in Russia on expressions of sexual orientation and gender identity, including laws banning the promotion of “non-traditional” sexual relationships and banning legal or medical gender reassignments.
UN human rights chief Volker Turk urged Russian authorities to “immediately repeal laws that place inappropriate restrictions on the work of human rights defenders or that discriminate against LGBT people.”
President Vladimir Putin, who is expected soon to announce he will seek a new six-year term in March, has long sought to promote an image of Russia as the guardian of traditional moral values in contrast to a decadent West.
In a speech last year, he said the West was welcome to adopt “rather strange, in my view, new trends like dozens of sexes and gay parades,” but it had no right to impose them on other countries.
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Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters before the court decision was announced that the Kremlin was “not following” the case and had no comment on it.
The court took about five hours from the start of the proceedings to issue its decision. The hearing was closed to the media, but reporters were allowed to hear the verdict.
LGBT activists had seen the decision as inevitable following the November 17 request by the Justice Department, which said – without giving examples – that “various signs and manifestations of extremist orientation, including inciting social and religious discord” had been detected in his activities LGBT movement in Russia.
Outside court, LGBT activist Ada Blakewell said the ruling belied official statements that Russia does not discriminate against LGBT people and provides them with equal rights.
She said she had been subjected to “conversion therapy” against her will for a year to convince her she was not a trans woman.
“In practice, after the adoption of this lawsuit, I will not be able to talk about conversion therapy,” he said.
People interviewed by Reuters on the streets of Moscow had divided opinions.
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“I would like this world to be a free place where people can love whoever they want, although my stance on all of this is neutral because I am not in their shoes,” said a young woman named Lera. “But if I were forbidden to love, that would be very painful.”
Daniil, a man in his 20s, said same-sex relationships were not normal.
“I think the majority of people at least that I know, my friends and acquaintances, share a negative attitude towards homosexuality. That’s why it’s the right decision for our country,” he said.
More than 100 groups have already been banned in Russia as “extremist”. Previous listings, for example of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious movement and organizations linked to opposition politician Alexei Navalny, have served as a prelude to arrests.
Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office, said the situation of the LBGT community in Russia “is just going from bad to worse,” and the lack of clarity around the court’s definition of the “LGBT movement” leaves the law open to abuse.
“What this means for the LGBT community is further suppression of their fundamental rights,” he said.
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