Russian Gay Bar Owner Arrested on LGBTQ+ “Extremism” Charges

The owner of a Russian gay bar has been arrested on “extremism” charges, the latest amid a wave of convictions and police activity stemming from the country’s Supreme Court ruling banning the “international public LGBT movement.”

The unnamed owner ran Pose, an LGBTQ+ bar located in the Russian city of Orenburg. He was detained on March 28 at a Moscow airport, The Moscow Times reported on Sunday. Days earlier, bar employees Diana Kamilyanova and Alexander Klimov were arrested in a police raid and have been charged with “organizing extremist activities,” including hiring and filming drag performers. All three people are being held in pre-trial detention until May 18 and could face 10 years in prison if found guilty.

These cases against Pose workers represent the first criminal charges aimed at LGBTQ+ people since Russia’s Supreme Court ruled that the “international public LGBT movement” is an inherently “extremist organization” last November. As the Human Rights Watch noted in a blog post, under Russian law, participating in or financing an extremist organization is punishable by up to 12 years in prison. Meanwhile, displaying “paraphernalia or symbols” of those groups, like Pride flags, warrants a 15-day jail sentence for a first offense and up to four years to repeat violations, in addition to fines between 1,000 and 100,000 rubles (which translates to USD $11 to $1,100 based on current exchange rates).

Russia’s Supreme Court did not define what the “international LGBTQ+ movement” is. However, several people have already been charged with misdemeanors under the new law. In February, a photographer in the city of Saratov was forced to pay a fine because several of her Instagram posts featured rainbow flags, and a woman was ordered to serve five days in jail for wearing rainbow earrings in public. In the meantime, the HRC found that at least three LGBTQ+ organizations have shut down since the “extremism” ruling.

The LGBTQ+ activism ban is the latest move in President Vladimir Putin’s crusade against queer and trans Russians. In 2023, Russian officials passed a blanket ban on most gender-affirming health care, while a 2022 amendment prohibited the distribution of LGBTQ+ “propaganda” to citizens of any age.

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