The Legal and Social Support Charitable Foundation Sphere (‘Sphere’) was an NGO based in St. Petersburg, Russia since 2011, through the years having evolved into the biggest Russian LGBT+ foundation. From the onset, Charitable Foundation ‘Sphere’ acted as a fiscal sponsor and implementing body for key LGBT+ rights initiatives across Russia. Most notably, since its establishment, Sphere’s team has been implementing programs and projects under the brand of the Russian LGBT Network, an interregional movement uniting LGBT+ activists and initiatives from all around the country, with 17 regional member organisations. In April of 2022, it was ruled to dissolve the foundation following a court process brought on by the Russian Ministry of Justice where the organisation’s activity ‘mainly aimed at LGBT+ people’ was found as allegedly ‘undermining moral foundations of the Russian society’.
Sphere’s team has remained intact and maintains its work, preserving and developing programs and activities aimed at supporting the rights of the LGBT+ community throughout Russia.
“Propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”
- LGBT+ propaganda law adopted in 2013 is applied to persons selectively. No more than 8 people are accused of propaganda per year. Most of the cases are related to propaganda in the Internet. But the goal of this law is not in the punisment of concreet people, but in the ban of the information in the Internet and stimulation of homophobic views of the citizens.
- Sphere is aware that since 2019, the FSB has been systematically engaged in identifying “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” on the Internet. We know that the FSB letters started the “propaganda” cases of Aleksey Pavlov from Naberezhnye Chelny, Ekaterina Topchiy and Sergey from Khabarovsk, Yulia Tsvetkova from Komsomolsk-on-Amur. Sphere’s lawyers applied to FSB with the question, why they but not the police were in charge of this work. The involvement of the FSB shows us that countering information about LGBT+ is part of high-level government policy.
- The bill on new legislation around ‘LGBT+ propaganda’ proposed in July of 2022 suggests all information that either denies family values or is a ‘propaganda of non-traditional relations’ be banned, which would potentially restrict access to information. Additionally, in explanatory note the deputees authoring the bill equate information on LGBT+ with the propaganda of suicide, drugs, extremism and criminal behavior, and the LGBT+ people are equated with pedophiles, terrorists and those who are childfree. This signals a worrying trend that discrimination of LGBT+ people and the association of their identity with outer influence, their invisibility as a social group will be further legitimized in Russia.
- Hate speech serves a powerful leverage for hate crime. After 2013, the year when the law on propaganda was adopted, LGBT+ people became specifically targeted by homophobic groups. The attacks with a follow-up blackmailing became a prevalent practice. The anti-LGBT+ groups encouraged bulling at work and demanded dismissals of LGBT+ teachers or custodial rights restrictions for LGBT+ parents.
- There are few examples of good practice such as the case of a 300 EUR fine for a blogger Volodya XXL for his call to kill gay people in Telegram in 2020. Another case was in 2021 when 2 LGBT+ activists got 500 and 830 EUR compensations because they were harassed by anti-gender activist Timur Bulatov. However such cases are rare, and would be impossible without LGBT+ organisations’ consistent involvement.
Persecution of LGBT+ activists for their human rights activities
- In 2021 right after the Memorial shutdown case, Russian authorities started a campaign against other human rights activists. One of the focus groups was LGBT+ organisations and activists. The Ministry of Justice selects key organisations working with LGBT+ rights to be recognized as foreign agents. Now there are 6 individuals and 6 organisations on the list.
- Since November of last year the Ministry of Justice has been seeking to shut down the Charitable Foundation Sphere. This suit is politically motivated and has no legal claims, even the judge has mentioned it, when the suit has first reached the court. However, the foregoing consideration is based on the ideological reason, which was literally formulated as follows: ‘LGBT+ – is a community of people united by their sexual and gender identity which goes against the state ideology, aimed at preserving and evolution of the human race’.
Rights of LGBT+ persons in places of captivity
- LGBT+ people are at high risk reside in the military, prisons and mental hospitals. A vivid example of recent years has been the case of Nazar Gulevich, a transgender man who spent more than two years in a solitary cell in the custody, since it was not possible for the administration to place him with other prisoners. The authorities should adopt a uniform procedure for the treatment of transgender prisoners, excluding their discrimination in comparison with others.
- In Russia, there is no legislation prohibiting conversion practices. In 2020, we identified an increase in cases of LGBT+ people who are undergoing forced psychiatric treatment and would come to LGBT+organisations for legal assistance. Sphere attributes this to an increase in the visibility of the topic thanks to the case of Aminat Lorsanova.
- 2021 was marked by several trends in the situation in the North Caucasus. We did not observe mass detentions among the LGBT+ community, but there were isolated detentions. The number of fabricated criminal cases has increased significantly. Chechen police officers under torture force people to write confessions to crimes they did not commit. The goal is a suspended sentence and a ban on leaving the Chechen Republic. Police officers in Chechnya prevent assistance to human rights activists.
- In 2021, the number of requests for help from women in the republics of the North Caucasus increased significantly. We have received twenty-five (25) submissions. A significant role, as noted by the applicants themselves, was played by the public case of Aminat Lorsanova. Despite harsh conditions and domestic violence, the girls find a way to escape and speak openly about domestic violence.
- In 2021 Saleh Magomadov and Ismail Isayev were kidnapped from Nizhny Novgorod and tortured by Chechen police. They faced fake charges for affiliation with an armed group, as a result of the brothers’ attempt to escape from illegal persecution. In 2022 Saleh was imprisoned for 8 years and Ismail for 6.
- Monitoring Program the Sphere, annually documents around 70 cases of violence and discrimination motivated by sexual identity. Among these crimes are physical assaults, that radical LGBT+ opponents orchestrate, attacks committed by strangers or law-enforcement officers, domestic violence, including family reprisals and honor killings; rapes, other sexual and physical abuse from acquaintances.
- SOGI-based violence very often remains underreported or uninvestigated. In case of a trial, investigators and judges do not consider crimes as committed on grounds of hatred to a social group of people united by diverse sexualities or gender identities, despite the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation stipulates stiff punishment for it. In April 2019, transgender woman from Kursk N.Surgutskaia was brutally killed by a man. The criminal defendant choked the victim, dismembered the dead body, corned its parts and threw to the waste bins next to his house, after he learned that the woman he spent time with was a transgender. In course of the investigation, the murderer was immediately recognized as irresponsible. During the legal examination of the case, the investigation did not even consider a hatred motive.