Police have closed a St Petersburg cafe for supposedly breaking Covid-19 laws. However, Zoom Cafe says it was targeted by the authorities after anti-LGBTQ+ activists accused them of hosting a queer film screening — which had apparently been scheduled online, on the videoconferencing app Zoom.
The owner of Zoom Cafe, Pavel Steinlukht, told Russian publication Fontanka that government standards agency Rospotrebnadzor and the police visited the venue on 13 November and ordered its closure for breaking coronavirus regulations.
However, he also claimed that the authorities only visited following a call from anti-LGBTQ+ campaigner Timur Bulatov. The activist said that he was worried that Zoom Cafe would allow minors into the venue while hosting events for queer film festival Side by Side.
Steinlukht said that 10 customers were breaking social distancing rules inside the cafe on the evening of 13 November, despite being reprimanded by staff. Just a few moments later, police and Rospotrebnadzor officers entered and shut down the cafe for breaking restrictions. The move is unusual for Russian government agencies, who usually give a warning or a fine to Covid-19 rulebreakers, with closure a last resort.
Steinluckht believes that the police staged the incident. “Some of these  clients in the cafe complained that they had only been given 500 roubles,” the businessman said. He also told Fontanka that a police officer made an additional payment to one of the visitors at the cafe.
According to the Side by Side festival press office, no event was planned in the cafe. After receiving a warning for breaking Covid-19 regulations during their launch on 12 November, the festival took place online. “Cafe Zoom suffered because someone does not know how to distinguish between the cafe and the [video calling] platform,” the organisers said.