Rainbow hunters. What “extremist” LGBTQ+ symbols are Russians being fined for (even if they’re right‑wing)
Анна Павлова|Дата-отдел
Rainbow hunters. What “extremist” LGBTQ+ symbols are Russians being fined for (even if they’re right‑wing)
1 July 2024, 20:12

Art: Maria Tolstova / Mediazona

After the Supreme Court declared the “international LGBT movement” an extremist organisation in late 2023, the operatives of the Centre for Extremism Prevention (Centre E) and even the FSB have a lot of work to do. Law enforcers are focused on searching for rainbow flags: they find them on the VKontakte social network, in windows, on government sites applications and even on right-wing Telegram channels.

Mediazona examined the decisions of Russian courts and found two dozen demonstration of “extremist symbols” cases involving LGBT paraphernalia. This is how such cases are brought and who is prosecuted in them.

After Russian Supreme Court’s decision to recognise the “international LGBT movement” as an extremist organisation came into force, Russian courts began to receive protocols for LGBT symbols under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences, “demonstration of extremest organisations’ symbols.” Only 14 judicial acts on such cases have been published on court websites, and without the full texts of these decisions it is impossible to understand exactly what kind of extremist symbols a person was prosecuted for. Another eight cases for rainbow symbols were reported by human rights activists or court press services.

First cases: a fine before the official ban of the “LGBT movement” and an arrest for earrings

The first administrative case for a rainbow flag was brought against photographer Inna Mosina in Saratov. Several old posts with rainbow flags in her Instagram were discovered by a Centre E operative Stolyarov, who refused to reveal his name in court. He also didn’t explain how he entered the social network which has been blocked in Russia for over two years and how he determined the presence of “banned symbols” in the posts in late 2023—even before the decision to declare the “LGBT movement” extremist came into force.

As a result, Mosina was fined 1,500 rubles, but the text of the ruling has not yet been published on the court’s website. It remains unknown what exactly was depicted in the artist’s posts; she only mentioned that one of them was dedicated to a girl with alopecia and had nothing to do with LGBTQ+. Mosina’s page on the Saatchi Art gallery website stated that she creates “inclusive stories about atypical female beauty, the destruction of gender stereotypes, the struggle for freedom.”

On 31 January, Sormovsky District Court in Nizhny Novgorod considered another protocol for rainbows. The administrative case was initiated against local resident Anastasia Yershova, the reason was rainbow earrings in the shape of frogs. Two days before, “people with an aggressive attitude” approached the girl and her friend in a cafe and demanded that they take off their “forbidden symbols,” human rights project Aegis reported. They filmed the young people on camera and promised to pass the footage to the Centre E. The video was eventually published by Vladislav Pozdnyakov, founder of the ultra-conservative and misogynistic Male State movement. After that, Yershova was summoned to the police for questioning and later detained pending trial. As a result, the young woman was arrested for five days, the appeal confirmed this decision.

Alexander Khinshtein, co-author of the law which banned “LGBT propaganda” in Russia, at first spoke out in support of Yershova, but a day later changed his mind and called her an “LGBT activist.”

Law enforcers searching for rainbows: Russians are fined for LGBT flags and “multivariate hearts”

Rainbow flags are the most frequent cause for administrative cases related to LGBT symbols. Such protocols were considered by courts in Tula, Moscow, Volgograd, Volzhsky, and St. Petersburg.

In February, Perm resident Maria Popova was fined 1,000 rubles for an LGBT flag, but this time a real one: she had hung it in her window. The court also ordered the flag to be destroyed.

In March, the same fine was imposed on Oksana Savich from Astrakhan for a post with an LGBT rainbow published on VKontakte back in 2016. In Naberezhnye Chelny, a court arrested Renat Zakirov for three days because of an LGBT flag on VKontakte, which was accompanied by the text: “For love and peace, Russians ... to the glue factory, Putin ...

In Vladivostok, head of the local headquarters of opposition politician Boris Nadezhdin, was arrested for six days because of a rainbow flag in a Telegram chat for 11 people. The court decision does not specify how the law enforcers learned about the message; it mentions that the case includes a report from an operative of the Centre E and an expert examination conducted by an associate professor of the Philosophy and Psychology Department at Vladivostok State University.

Cases like these are most often dealt by Centre E. But in Abakan, FSB operatives found an LGBT flag and “multivariate hearts, which symbolise the user’s involvement in non-traditional orientation” on the VKontakte page of local resident Svetlana Shakhrayuk. The court fined her a thousand rubles. In this case, law enforcers ordered an expertise from a certain Consortium LLC, as well as took testimony from two people who allegedly visited Shakhrayuk’s page and saw the hearts and flags.

Another peculiar case is that against Danil Morozov, a member of the Youth Parliament under the State Duma. In May 2024, the Moscow Tverskoy District Court sentenced him to a fine and arrest because of his posts in Telegram criticising the war and LGBT symbols. The same court considered a whole bunch of protocols for LGBT symbolism against Muscovite Sergey Yakovlev. The texts of these judgements have not been published, and it is difficult to say exactly how many protocols there were, but close to a dozen. Judge Alesya Orekhova combined these protocols into three judgements, so we count this as three court decisions.

Fines for homophobes: even ultra-conservative and pro-war activists are prosecuted for LGBT symbols

In April, Yelena Morozova, a resident of Volgograd, was fined 1,000 rubles for publishing an LGBT flag. The court decision states that she posted it in the “Russian CorpsTelegram channel, which she administered.

It is noteworthy that this is a right-wing channel: the avatar shows a military man, the name contains a Russian flag emoji, and LGBT activists are mentioned only in a negative way (as well as “libtards”, “leftists” and, for example, migrants).

LGBT-related posts on the “Russian Corps” channel. The top one reads: “And the faggot is caught...”

The court ruling does not specify how the LGBT flag appeared in the channel and how law enforcers found its administrator. Morozova pleaded guilty.

The same month, a similar case was considered by the Zelenograd District Court in Moscow: operatives found an LGBT flag in the Telegram chat room “Russian patriot.” Mediazona couldn’t find it on the messaging platform, but the title suggests that this is a community of those who treat LGBTQ+ people in much the same way as the authors of the “Russian Corps” channel.

Centre E operatives of the found that the administrator of the chat room posted “a photo of Pope NAME against the background of the flag of the extremist international LGBT movement banned in Russia.” The report also stated that the account that posted the photo belonged to Vitaly Yevstigneev.

Fines in absentia and “LGBT-propaganda” on state services’ websites

Yevstigneev, who, according to the law enforcers, posted a rainbow flag in the chat room of the Russian Patriot channel, did not appear in court and was fined in absentia. In total, Mediazona found four cases when courts imposed fines in the absence of the accused, but the amounts were not mentioned in the texts of the decisions.

For example, in March, the Tverskoy District Court fined Ilya Andreyev, a former presenter of Silver Rain radio, in absentia because of an Instagram post with a rainbow flag. The case was also handled by Moscow’s Centre E; it is unknown how the operatives identified the person who runs the account. In May, the same court fined one Maxim Ivanov in absentia for an LGBT flag on his VKontakte page.

A Zelenograd resident surnamed Khlebov was also fined in absentia. He sent an appeal to the prosecutor’s office via Gosuslugi, the portal of public services, that “contained expressions insulting the President of the Russian Federation, as well as slogans promoting the extremist LGBT movement.”

“The appeal was accompanied by photos showing flags of the extremist LGBT movement, men kissing with the LGBT flag, etc., and also indicated the principles of the movement: love, be proud, fight, create (LGBT),” the court ruling reads.

Other symbols Russians are being fined for

It is also unknown how many decisions under Article 20.3 of the Administrative Code for LGBT symbols have already been issued but not yet published. So far, the share of such protocols in the total number of 20.3 decisions is small. Since the beginning of 2024, Russian courts have received a total of 2,630 protocols on propaganda or demonstration of extremist symbols, of which more than half (1,456) have been published.

Most often protocols were drawn up for the demonstration of symbols of the “AUE movement” (716 decisions), which allegedly “promotes criminal cilture.” Nationalist organisations are in second place (531 decisions). Ukrainian organisations (UNA-UNSO, Right Sector, Azov Battalion, Freedom of Russia Legion, Russian Volunteer Corps) are in third with 85 decisions. Then come Islamic organisations (Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Taliban) with 66 decisions and Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation with 19 decisions.

Less often than for “LGBT symbols,” protocols were drawn up for logos Facebook which is banned in Russia as extremist (only five such decisions), for the movement in support of the arrested governor of Khabarovsk Krai Sergey Furgal (three decisions), the National Bolshevik Party (two decisions) and for the symbols of “citizens of the USSR”—two decisions. Mediazona could not assign 13 protocols to any of the categories.

Editors: Maxim Litavrin, Maria Klimova

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