8. In spite of the earlier recommendations, civil society organisations faced unprecedented pressure by the Russian authorities since the 3rd Universal Periodic Review. By the beginning of the full-scale invasion, most of the notorious Russian human rights initiatives and independent media outlets were pushed out of the country or cracked down, their legal entities being liquidated and their managers and employees facing risks of criminal prosecution.
9. The main tool used to silence Russian civil society has been ‘foreign agents’ legislation, introduced in 2012. It was drastically widened and harshened
at the end of 2020. Since then, the law targeted not only NGOs, independent media outlets, and ‘individual-media foreign agents’ but also non-registered entities as well as administrators, employees or members of all the above-mentioned entities. In case of individuals, a criteria of foreign funding was lifted, so ‘any form of support from abroad’ qualified a person to be labelled. Four different registers were introduced for each type of ‘foreign agents’. Evidently, the variety of the lists led to the amount of paperwork overwhelming even for the Ministry of Justice. Thus, in 2022 another bill was introduced, further widening the scope of repressions and as well as composing a united list of foreign agents
10. As of March 2023, the list contained 559 ‘foreign agents’ of which 252 individuals. The list includes the main Russian federal and region LGBT+ organisations as well as vocal LGBT+ activists. Among them are Coming Out, Sphere Foundation, Russian LGBT Network, Moscow Community Center, Action, T*-Action, Irida, Revers, Majak, Resource LGBT Center, Federation of LGBT Sport, T9 NSK, Igor Kochetkov, Mariya Sabunaeva, Kirill Fedorov, Sasha Kazantseva, Regina Dzugkoeva, Karen Shahinyan, Yaroslav Sirotkin.
11. The list does not include any motivation for the designation of a foreign agent except for a reference to a respective provision of the law. Therefore, the main way to learn the reasoning behind an arbitrary decision is to file a complaint. One of the reasons for several persons even who are not LGBT+ activists is ‘LGBT propaganda’ (or ‘propaganda of non-traditional relationships’). Among such people are Elizaveta Gyrdymova (singer Monetochka), Daria Serenko (co-founder of Feminist Anti-War Resistance), Moscow regional deputy Darya Besedina.
12. For an attorney at law Mikhail Benyash, the reasoning was his official remuneration from human rights organisations, including Human Rights Centre Memorial and Sphere Foundation. In February 2023, Benyash was disbarred by the rule of the Krasnodar Bar Association.
13. Designation as a ‘foreign agent’ causes both formal and informal discrimination for respective individuals and entities. All the individuals in the list are subjected to severe limitations in terms of their professional activities. Excessive reporting obligations consider every ‘foreign agent’. The Code on Administrative Offences and the Criminal Code were amended simultaneously in 2020, causing unbearable fines for organisations and individuals and criminal liability for up to 5 years of imprisonment for individuals for violations of the foreign agents legislation. Informal intimidation included the intensified smear campaign in state-related media and attacks on the work and private spaces of those designated as ‘foreign agents’.
14. The informal consequence of designation as a ‘foreign agent’ is becoming a target for a smear campaign. State-related media and public officials such as the State Duma deputies regularly mention human rights defenders, journalists and activists using such terms as ‘traitors’. Media outlets associated with Evgeniy Prigozhin, a notorious owner of the ‘Vagner’s PMC", had been publishing ‘investigations’ based on various NGOs’ public reports calling to designate human rights initiatives and independent media ‘foreign agents’ and ‘undesirable organisations’ months and sometimes weeks prior to the designation of a respective initiative. The LGBT+ rights initiatives and activists faced numerous public accusations in ‘propaganda’ and ‘manipulations with fragile children’s psyche’.
15. The use of the law on undesirable organisations has also been widened. Since 2015, the label ‘undesirable organisations’ has been applied to foreign NGOs and media outlets. According to the Russian authorities, their activities ‘threaten the foundations of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation, the defence capability of the country, or the security of the state’.
16. ‘Undesirable organisations’ are prohibited from conducting any activities on the territory of the Russian Federation under the risk of administrative and criminal liability for the employees and founders. Russian citizens are also prohibited from participating in such organisations’ activities abroad. Participation in an "undesirable organisation" is punishable by a fine of up to 100,000 rubles. If a person has previously been held administratively liable, engagement in an "undesirable organisation" becomes a criminal act and can be punished with up to 5 years imprisonment.
17. Since 2022, the prosecutor's office has been investigating Alesandr Voronov, the CEO of the LGBT-initiative group Coming Out, for cooperation with an ‘undesirable organisation’. The reason was a brochure about LGBT+ parents, published jointly with The Heinrich Böll Foundation, which was recognized in Russia as an ‘undesirable organisation’. The brochure was published in 2009, when Voronov was not yet a director and the Bell Foundation was not an ‘undesirable organisation’ (it was recognized as such in 2022). This case shows how collaboration between NGOs can be dangerous and prosecuted if one of them is deemed undesirable. In addition, this case demonstrates that cooperation with "undesirable organisations" has no statute of limitations and can become a reason for persecution at any time.
18. As of 10 March 2023, the registry of undesirable organisations consisted of 78 organisations. Among them, there are international donor institutions, human rights organisations, independent media, political entities, research organisations, educational entities, socio-educational initiatives and projects, etc.
19. Further risks were introduced for the remains of Russian civil society in February 2022 with the ‘war censorship’ legislation effectively prohibiting any public assessment of the actions of the state military forces and the government in terms of the invasion.
20. In December 2022, the repressive legislation was complemented by signing into force amendments to the law on ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’, pushing all the LGBT+ rights organisations and initiatives out of the legal field. According to the current version of the law, the ‘spread of information or public actions in order to <…> create a distorted perception of traditional and non-traditional relationships’ equal value’ if made online and affecting minors leads to the same consequences for a legal entity as production and distribution of child pornography. Thus, for LGBT+ rights initiatives any public activity may lead to a 5 million RUB fine and 3 month suspended operations.
21. Should the civil society organisation survive the above mentioned measures and continue its operations in the country, the authorities take the extreme measures, namely the liquidation of a legal entity and criminal prosecution of individuals involved in its operations. The most notorious cases of such measures are the liquidation of the Memorial and the Moscow Helsinki Group
22. In February 2022, the Ministry of Justice filed a lawsuit against the Sphere Foundation which was supporting LGBT+ persons in Russia.
According to the state position, the constitution of the country enshrines ‘basic traditional family values’, and the foundation’s work is aimed at ‘changing the legislation and moral foundations in the Russian Federation’. In April 2022, the Kuibyshev District Court of St. Petersburg issued a decision to liquidate the Sphere Foundation.