LGBT Group Pressured to Suspend Activities

Submitted by ILGA-Europe

Reposted from St Petersburg Times:

Last week, LGBT rights organization Vykhod (Coming Out) won an appeal against a ruling by the magistrates’ court that imposed a hefty fine on the NGO after naming it a “foreign agent,” but said it would temporarily cease all public activities due to continued pressure on the organization.

On the same day, another district court denied an appeal by the Side by Side LGBT rights film festival, another LGBT organization facing similar charges.

On Thursday, July 25, the Vasileostrovsky District Court threw out the prior magistrates’ ruling against Vykhod and sent the case back for review on “technical grounds,” Vykhod said in a news release.

“We are encouraged that there still remain judges in St. Petersburg who can hear cases like this more or less impartially and objectively,” said coordinator of Vykhod’s Legal Aid program Ksenia Kirichenko.

“Until then, almost all our motions were dismissed and most of our arguments were simply ignored. We are waiting for the date the case will be reviewed and will continue fighting. It is important for us to prove that we are not ‘foreign agents’ and that the case against us is unfounded.”

According to Kirichenko, the fine was imposed on the organization for an “analytical text and a rally that [it] did not take part in.”

Earlier last week, Vykhod suspended all public activities, including publishing literature and holding street events, after a recent visit by prosecutors demanding that the organization “eliminate the violations.” This action came before the court ruling came into force that named Vykhod a “foreign agent” and fined it 500,000 rubles ($15,271), the NGO said in a statement on Monday, July 22.

The organization continues to deny accusations of being a “foreign agent” as defined under legislation passed in November 2013, describing the term as “discriminatory.” According to Vykhod, it cannot be applied to an organization that defends the rights of homosexual, bisexual and transgender citizens of Russia.

The law, which was initiated after mass protests against reported large-scale violations during the Dec. 4, 2011 State Duma and March 4, 2012 presidential elections, requires any NGO that receives any funding from abroad and is involved in political activities to register as a “foreign agent.”

The court ruled that Vykhod was guilty because the NGO published a brochure called “Discrimination: What, How and Why,” organized a campaign called “Let’s Stop the Homophobic Law Together,” and took part in a protest rally against the St. Petersburg law forbidding promotion of homosexuality, without registering as a “foreign agent.”

“We see support of the LGBT community at this difficult time for us all as our main task today,” the organization said.

“That is why we are prepared to suspend our public activities: For the opportunity to continue to provide legal and psychological help, conduct social activities and provide services to the LGBT community of St. Petersburg. People need places where they can be themselves and receive help.”

However, Vykhod admitted that it was difficult to say if putting its public activities on hold would end the campaign against the organization. An appeal against the fine of 300,000 rubles ($9,162) imposed on the NGO’s acting director Anna Anisimova has yet to be heard.

On Thursday, July 25, the Kuibyshevsky District Court dismissed an appeal by the Side by Side LGBT rights film festival, which was also branded a “foreign agent” and fined 500,000 rubles ($15,271) under the “foreign agents” law by a magistrates’ court. However, the court reduced the fine to 400,000 rubles ($12,216).

The organization said that the ruling by Judge Yekaterina Botantsova repeated the prior ruling by the magistrates’ court word for word, while ignoring any arguments made by lawyers Dmitry Bartenev and Sergei Golubok, who spent two hours citing violations in the case. Among the violations they found were that the case failed to identify the time of the alleged offense; that the prosecutors’ inspection that led to the opening of the case was illegal; that many violations of the law were committed during the inspection; that prosecutors had no right to file a case according to the law; that the “foreign agents” law lacks a definition of “political activities;” and so forth.

“The 100,000-ruble discount given to us by Judge Botantsova does not satisfy us,” Side by Side said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, she did not have enough courage and objectivity to see all of the violations of the law by the prosecutors; she failed to call a spade a spade. They want to punish us for a crime that we did not commit. In this country real crime remains unpunished, while punishments are imposed where there is no crime. But we will not stop, no matter what, and will continue to seek a fair trial — in the City Court, in the Constitutional Court, in the European Court of Human Rights.”

The cases against Vykhod and Side by Side stem from raids by prosecutors that took place in March. Dozens of NGOs were raided in St. Petersburg, but only three organizations, the third being the Anti-Discrimination Center Memorial, were charged under the “foreign agents” law.

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