(Bloomberg) -- Russia’s top court declared an “international LGBT public movement” to be an extremist organization, paving the way for a new wave of repression even as no such group exists in the country.
The Supreme Court approved an application by the Justice Ministry to ban the movement in a closed hearing Thursday, state-run Tass news agency reported. The ministry said in a Nov. 17 statement the organization’s activities “incite social and religious discord” in breach of Russia’s anti-extremism laws, though it has never identified the body it’s targeting.
That’s alarmed activists who say the law could be used to threaten any LGBT person with long jail sentences by declaring them to be involved in “extremist” activity. The hearing took place as the Kremlin prepares for elections in March in which Vladimir Putin is likely to seek a fifth presidential term.
The court’s ruling “makes it possible to ban any LGBT symbols, including rainbow clothing or children’s toys painted in the colors of a rainbow,” said Ivan Pavlov, a Russian lawyer based outside the country. “Everyone who leads an LGBT lifestyle will be forced to hide, since any of them can be charged with participation in an extremist organization.”
“Any person whose interests are affected by one or another court decision can file an appeal,” said Alexey Bushmakov, a lawyer for the Moscow Community Center for LGBT Initiatives. “We will file an appeal on behalf of the community,” though it’s “extremely unlikely” to be successful, he said.
The Kremlin is placing increasing emphasis on “traditional values” amid a deepening confrontation with the US and Europe over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In December, Putin approved a law forbidding the positive portrayal of gay relationships in books, films, the media and the internet, regardless of age.
The ban on “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” expanded Russia’s 2013 law that prohibited the promotion of homosexuality to children, making it illegal to now also present positive images to adults of gay relationships in media and advertising.
“Kremlin propaganda is now relying on a neo-fascist cult of masculinity and sheer force, repeating Nazi propaganda of the 1930s,” said Vladislav Inozemtsev, director of the Moscow-based Center for Post-Industrial Studies. “So the functions of men and women must be demonstrated as clearer, and any ‘deviations’ from traditional gender roles cannot be accepted as normal.”
Some independent news outlets including Meduza, which operates from outside Russia and whose website is blocked within the country, used rainbow-colored symbols on their social media channels in an apparent protest of today’s court hearing.
(Updates with lawyer’s comment in fifth paragraph, further details.)
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