By: Sam Carley
After months of continued suppression of human rights activists by Moscow, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) of the Russian Federation declared the Russian LGBT Network a “foreign agent” on November 8th, 2021.
The Russian LGBT Network is a non-governmental LGBT rights group that was founded in 2006. The organization seeks to increase public support for LGBT issues within Russia, focusing their efforts mainly on human rights abuses targeted at LGBT individuals throughout the country. Notably, in 2017, the group worked to expose the mass government-sponsored detentions and torture of gay men in Chechnya as a part of a landmark Novaya Gazeta investigation.
Throughout its fifteen-year history, the Russian LGBT Network has been at odds with the Russian government, but tensions rose dramatically in 2021. The MOJ conducted a smear campaign against the organization in the fall, calling the group “gay propaganda” on a government broadcast and claiming that the group’s founder, Igor Kochetkov, posed a threat to the Russian Constitution. The campaign to discredit the Russian LGBT Network concluded on November 8th when the organization, along with five lawyers from the now defunct Team 29 (Komanda 29) human rights firm, was officially designated as a “foreign agent.”
Earlier this year, the Russian government expanded its “foreign agent” law to allow the designation to apply to any organization receiving international funding. Once labeled a foreign agent, an organization must comply with extensive audits and restrictions or face up to five years in prison.
The Russian LGBT Network has announced that it plans to continue operation to the best of its ability and protest the charges in a court of law:
“We don’t know why we have been declared a ‘foreign agent.’ The Russian LGBT Network disagrees with this status. We are not involved in political activities, we offer legal and psychological aid (and) defend the rights of the LGBT+ community.”