Side by Side LGBT Film Festival Faces Prosecution under ‘Foreign Agents’ Law in Russia.
On 6th May, 2013, Side by Side LGBT Film Festival, received a ruling from the local prosecutor accusing the organization of violating Article 19.7 of the administrative code relating to the conduct of non-commercial organizations and their status as ‘foreign agents’.
In recent weeks various organizations, Side by Side LGBT Film Festival included, across the Russian Federation have been visited by officials from the Ministry of Justice, tax inspectors and police as part of mass checks into the activities of NGOs. On 21 March the Side by Side offices were paid a visit with six officials from the Ministry of Justice and the police arriving unexpectedly and presenting a three-page letter demanding the submission of 24 separate items ranging from proof of the organization’s legal status, to all banking transactions and contracts over the last three years. On 23 April the offices were paid yet another visit this time demanding copies of films screened over the last five years, grant applications and contracts and examples of all printed information brochures. After a week-long analysis of the material the prosecutor decided that Side by Side was in violation of the law on two accounts, firstly the publication of a brochure: The Worldwide LGBT Movement: Local Practices to Global Politics and secondly, participation in the social awareness campaign: “Let’s Stop the Homophobic Bill Together.”
The reasons presented by the prosecutor stipulating as to why Side by Side is being taken to court is rife with mistakes notes festival organizer Gulya Sultanova: “From the presentation of the document it is evident that the prosecutor was in a hurry. Clearly, the document was put together quickly and carelessly and there are glaring errors in regards to dates mentioned - this is a very important moment. They are focusing on content and citing activities that were made prior to 21 November, 2012 when the law concerning ‘foreign agents’ actually came into force. For example the campaign: “Let’s Stop the Homophobic Bill Together” was conducted in Saint Petersburg in 2011, way before this new legislation. If the Russian courts are independent and there is the opportunity to listen to our case I am sure the verdict will be in our favour. Our activities are for the good of society and we are working for the citizens of Russia.”
The organizers of Side by Side LGBT Film Festival take the position that the legislation concerning ‘foreign agents’ is unconstitutional and is designed to repress human rights organizations. The very idea of registering as "foreign agents" is unlawful and contrary to the spirit of the law on NGOs. This has been stated not only by human rights activists but also by the Minister of Justice for the Russian Federation Alexander Konovalov in January, 2013.
The hearing will take place at the end of May 2013. Irregardless of the outcome Side by Side LGBT Film Festival will not its valuable work and will defend its case in court and if necessary take it to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
Organizations also under prosecution:
LGBT Organization Coming Out (Saint Petersburg)
Manny de Guerre