Honourable members of the Committee,
On behalf of the Charitable Foundation Sphere, I thank you for the opportunity to raise serious concerns regarding the rights of LGBT+ people in Russia.
Today is a difficult day for the LGBT+ movement in Russia. Today, the State Duma is holding parliamentary hearings on a bill on a complete ban of the so-called LGBT propaganda — not only among minors as it was since 2013, but among all age groups.
At a time when the Russian army is bombing the territory of Ukraine, the authorities are trying to rally citizens around the ideology of “traditional Russian values”.
Bills on a complete ban of LGBT propaganda were being submitted to the Duma consecutively since June of this year. The current bill is the third in a row, and Sphere has strong reasons to believe that it may be passed.
According to the existing law, cases of propaganda should be investigated by the police. However, 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.
The ultimate goal of this law lies not in the punisment of separate individuals, but rather in the ban on all and any information about LGBT+ on the Internet and inducement of homophobic views of the citizens.
The state propaganda machine began to use the hatred against LGBT+ community at the beginning of a Russian full-scale invasion. Federal channels spoke about the participation of representatives of the LGBT+ community in the war on the side of Ukraine as a negative characteristic of the quality of the armed forces. State representatives have started habitually demonising being LGBT+, associating it strictly with Western influence, equating it with an issue of national security.
Despite this tremendous pressure, LGBT+ activists still fight for their rights.
In April, our Sphere Foundation was ruled to be dissolved. We are the biggest Russian LGBT+ foundation. This suit is politically motivated, rooted in ‘traditional values’ ideology and therefore has no legal basis, even the judge has mentioned it, when the suit has reached the court for the first time.
The liquidation of Sphere is part of a campaign to counter the Russian human rights movement, which began in 2021 with the liquidation of Memorial. One of the focus groups of this campaign is LGBT+ organisations and activists. The Ministry of Justice selects key organisations and individuals working with LGBT+ rights to be recognized as foreign agents. Now there are 7 LGBT+ activists and 7 LGBT+ organisations who are labelled as such.
LGBT+ people are also at high risk 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 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. Since 2020, we identifing 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.
The difficult situation with LGBT+ rights in the North Caucasus persists.
The rehabilitation centre “Start” in Dagestan provides conversion practices. One of the victims of this Center was Magomed Askhabov, who was subjected to conversion practices for 7 months. The Investigative Committee has not taken any decisions on Magomed’s complaints for almost 100 days.
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 February of this year Saleh was imprisoned for 8 years and Ismail for 6.