A St Petersburg court has dismissed the charges against an LGBT film festival, accusing the organisation of being in violation of the foreign agent law, an offence that carries a penalty of 400,000 roubles (£7,770). A spokesperson for the non-profit Side by Side LGBT festival said: “We are pleased with the decision and finally justice has been done … We hope that other NGOs also being prosecuted under this law will also win, restoring justice to the court system in Russia.”
Organisers are now in the process of filing a lawsuit against the authorities for moral and material damages. A separate case against Gulya Sultanova, the head of the organisation, is still pending with the verdict due within the next month. If found guilty of breaching the “foreign agents” law, she will be fined 300,000 roubles (£5,800).
The controversial law, passed last year, obliges any non-governmental organisation in receipt of funding from outside of Russia to register as a “foreign agent”. Given the Cold War connotations of the term “foreign agent”, critics have argued that the law is designed to damage the reputation of civil society groups.
Since launching in St Petersburg in 2008, Side by Side LGBT Festival has held events in a number of cities across Russia including Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Archangel and Kemerovo. Following various obstacles along the way, organisers have been forced to hold screenings in secret venues and foreign embassies. In several cases, fire inspectors closed down participating cinemas just days before they were due to show films from the festival.
Last year, the festival, which has received widespread support from well-known figures from the film industry including Pedro Almodovar, Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, took place in Moscow for the first where it was picketed daily by religious activists wearing t-shirts with slogans such as “Perverts get out of Russia”. The situation for Russia’s LGBT community worsened this year when an anti-gay law was passed, criminalising the “spread of homosexual propaganda” to minors.