Russian LGBT rights group under attack as 'foreign agent'

St. Petersburg protesters released rainbow-colored balloons in support of LGBT rights and black balloons to protest violence against gays. (Photo by Olga Wagina)
St. Petersburg protesters on May 17 released rainbow-colored balloons in support of LGBT rights and black balloons to protest violence against gays. (Photo by Olga Wagina)

The Russian LGBT rights organization Coming Out was in court today seeking to defend itself against a claim that it is a “foreign agent.”

Shockingly, Coming Out said, the court implied that the St. Petersburg-based organization must be guilty because why else would it be facing prosecution.

The court also decided that considering the constitutionality of the law against “political activity” by foreign-supported organizations would take too much time, so it refused to do so, Coming Out said.

The organization published this account of the day’s court activity on Facebook:

For 4 hours the judge listened to both parties’ arguments, before postponing the trial. Prosecutor insisted that publishing a brochure “Discrimination of LGBT: What, How, and Why?” and  participation in a campaign against adoption of the federal “propaganda” law were “political activity”.

Coming Out’s lawyers Dmitry Bartenev and Sergei Golubok drew the court’s attention to the unlawful nature of the prosecutor’s checks, legal ambiguity of the “foreign agents” law, and the difference between human rights and political activity.

To begin, the lawyers pointed out that prosecutor’s audits of the organization were unlawful, as no grounds for these checks were ever presented. In auditing the 40 NGOs of St. Petersburg, and hundreds of NGOs all over Russia, prosecutors in effect embarked on a “witch-hunt.”

To the court, this argument was irrelevant. “If no violation occurred you wouldn’t be here,” remarked the judge, with that toppling the idea of the presumption of innocence.

Lawyers’ second argument, pertaining to the fact that terminology used in the law – “political activity” – is legally vague and uncertain, and the law’s compliance with the RF Constitution needs to be verified, was also dismissed, as the prosecutor found this request to unnecessarily prolong the trial.

Coming Out’s main argument remained that human rights activity cannot be equated to political activity. Moreover, even if the court found protection of rights of minorities to be political activity, it would remain unclear what kind of state policy the organization is accused of trying to change.  “Where is it written that homophobia and discrimination of LGBT constitutes Russia’s state policy?” – asked Coming Out’s lawyer, Sergei Golubok. No answer to that was given.

At the end, the lawyers were able to get the trial postponed, with next trial date set for June 11, 10 am.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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