LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

Yet another tough May month for freedom of assembly in Russia

May has become a very tough month in regards freedom of assembly for LGBTI persons in Russia.

Several events in Russia in May experienced harsh violations of freedom of assembly. Here are a few examples which have come to the attention of ILGA-Europe:

Siberian Athens sport festival, Tomsk

In the beginning of May, on 7-9 May, LGBT sport festival “Siberian Athens” that was held in Tomsk faced massive obstruction. Venues cancelled agreements with the organisers, and subsequent search and negotiations with other venues led to more refusals. Activists suspect pressure on the venues from oppositional groups or the authorities. It is a second case in less than six months when LGBTI sport events were disrupted due to venue cancellations. However, last time when LGBTI sport events faced such pressure, was during the Open Games organised by the Russian LGBT Sport Federation in 2014 along the Winter Olympics in Russia. Read more here.

May Day and IDAHOT in St Petersburg

In St Petersburg, where the LGBTI community had seen greater access to public spaces in the past two years, the situation changed drastically.

In 2014 and 2015, the IDAHOT rally took place under full police protection, with the number of participants growing from 20 in 2009 to 350 in 2015, making it the biggest LGBTI rally in Russia. The May Day march on 1 May in the past few years would include a large rainbow column. This time, LGBTI activists were left without their usual ‘host’ platforms in the march, because many of them were not authorized by the city administration. Those that were left were not always open to accept rainbow insignia in their rows. During the March itself, a dozen activists with rainbow insignia were detained for “drawing attention to... human rights for gender minorities with homosexual orientation…”, and some were harassed by other march participants, who blamed them for creating unnecessary controversy and discrediting the whole platform. Some of the activists that unfurled rainbow flags marched without any obstruction.

In May 2016, for the first time, an application to organise the rally on Marsovo Field (the “hyde park” of St. Petersburg) by LGBT group Coming Out was denied. Among the reasons for denial, the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” law was cited. St Petersburg LGBTI groups and communities opted for a symbolic action that was neither publicly announced nor requiring authorization – a launch of balloons in the city center. Read more about the event here

IDAHOT celebrations across Russia

Having a solid record of refusals or obstruction of LGBTI rallies by local administration and the police, LGBTI activists in many Russian cities opted for symbolic actions without any banners or insignia, such as releasing colorful balloons. Such actions do not require notification of authorities. Symbolic actions with balloons and sometimes leafleting were reported to have been held in Arkhangelsk, Moscow, Murmansk, Samara, Tyumen, and others.

In Tyumen, activists replaced their plan to hold a manifestation, which received authorization, with a symbolic action because of security threats. The city administration, while authorising the manifestation, indicated that they would be specifically looking into potential violations of the ‘propaganda’ law. A local parents organization mobilised against the event, calling for counter-protests, demanding legal action against the organisers, and publicly backlisting the organisers and revealing their personal data. Read more here.

In Moscow, one activist was attacked by passers-by, and was taken to the police along with the attackers. The activist was released without any charges after submitting a statement. The attackers are reported to not be facing any charges either. Read more here.

In Murmansk, activists’ application to hold a rally on 17 May was again, like in the previous years, denied on bogus grounds of another rally already registered for the same location and time. Activists documented absence of any action there at the given time on 17 May.