This week, Russia's Justice Ministry filed a lawsuit seeking to “liquidate” Sphere Foundation, the legal entity under which the Russian LGBT Network operates, arguing the group’s activities run contrary to “traditional values.”
The network works to promote and protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Russia. During Chechnya’s horrific anti-gay purge in 2017, the network led efforts to stop abuses and evacuate survivors.
According to the Press Service for St. Petersburg Courts, the ministry’s lawsuit argues that “all the activities of Sphere run contrary to the state policy designed to preserve, expand and develop [the country’s] human capital.” The ministry also accuses Sphere of spreading “LGBT views” and working with people under the age of 18, aspiring, among other things, to “change Russian federal legislation regarding the LGBT movement” – in other words, the discriminatory “gay propaganda” law. The suit asserts that if the work of a non-profit organization is out of sync with “fundamental family values enshrined in the Russian constitution" it represents “a threat to public order and the rule of law.”
Sphere Foundation was founded in 2011 by Russian LGBT rights activist, Igor Kochetkov. In 2016, authorities designated Sphere Foundation a “foreign agent.” In 2021, Russian LGBT Network and Kochetkov personally were also slapped with the toxic “foreign agent” designation. At around that time, state-sponsored media organized a vicious smear campaign against the network and Kochetkov.
“During [its] 11 years, Sphere … was never found in breach of any regulations. The government’s claims against us are ideological, rather than law-based,” Kochetkov said in a social media post.
The Justice Ministry’s recent lawsuit against Memorial, Russia’s human rights leader, was laced with allegations of absurd bureaucratic violations of the “foreign agents” law. However the prosecutors openly stated their political motivations during the final court hearing.
With Sphere, the authorities have explicitly disclosed their political and anti-rights motivation from the starting block. After years of hindering the work of LGBT rights activists with the use of the “foreign agent” and “gay propaganda” laws, the authorities now demand the organization be shut down in the name of “traditional values.” The courts should not be compliant with this act of political, homophobic censorship that blatantly violate Russia’s human rights obligations.