For Immediate Release: March 14, 2012
New York City – Today, Human Rights First condemns a recent Russian court decision which discriminates against LGBTI persons. The organization is concerned that the court construed homosexuality as “extremist” behavior and urges the Russian government to amend vague anti-extremism laws to prevent their misuse.
Human Rights First’s call comes after the Pervomai district court of Krasnodar, Russia, published the full text of its February decision that upheld a Krasnodar Ministry of Justice verdict denying registration to Sochi Pride House—a civil society group that, like many advocacy organizations of many different causes, seeks to capitalize on the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi to promote tolerance in sports.
“The court’s decision discriminates against LGBTI Russians by denying them the right to freedom of association simply because they are gay,” said Human Rights First’s Innokenty Grekov. “The court’s flawed reasoning equates the struggle with homophobia and ‘extremist activities’ that may threaten Russia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Human Rights First urges Russia’s Federal Ministry of Justice to seek reversal of this decision. Alarmingly, last year, the same court in Krasnodar banned several Jehovah’s Witnesses and Falun Gong publications as “extremist.” The verdicts of those and similar cases that misuse of Russia’s anti-extremism legislation are likely to be reversed at the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR). The organizers of Sochi Pride House is expected to appeal to the ECHR; their leader Nikolai Alexeyev won a case in 2010, after the court declared bans on Moscow Pride to violate European human rights guarantees.
The latest decision against Sochi Pride House states that “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientation” is a direct threat to the Russian society, while calling attempts to confront homophobia “extremist” because they inherently “incite social and religious hatred.”
The Russian government’s approach to confronting “extremism” focuses on both combating violent hate crimes, most of which are still committed by neo-Nazi gangs, and clamping down on fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, and association by engaging in dubious efforts to seek out “extremism” in nonviolent dissent.
“The authorities in Russia can solve this problem by amending the country’s ambiguous anti-extremism legislation to prioritize violent crime instead of going after dissenting voices,” concluded Grekov. “Month after month, we see verdicts that violate Russia’s constitution and its international obligations to freedom of expression and assembly under the guise of anti-extremism. LGBTI persons are not a threat to Russia’s statehood, nor can they ‘incite hatred’ toward themselves. The official rhetoric advanced by the court in Krasnodar sets a tone that is provocative and dangerous, and Russian authorities must speak out to temper such accusations.”