MOSCOW – A St. Petersburg LGBT film festival has been branded a “foreign agent” and fined 500,000 rubles ($15,500) under a recently adopted law which is largely seen as a tool to crack down on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
A probe into the film festival Bok o bok (Side by Side) was opened in March and resulted in the fine and the “foreign agent” status, which under the recent law is slapped on NGOs that are believed to receive funding from abroad. The law stipulates that all NGOs receiving funding from abroad are to voluntarily register as “foreign agents,” which would lead to more scrutiny on the part of the authorities and a more complicated tax regime. Nearly all NGOs operating in Russia have refused to voluntarily brand themselves as “foreign agents,” and quite a number of them have been fined over the last few months.
Side by Side said on its website that the judge ignored all materials proving that the festival did not receive any foreign funding, while he did not provide any arguments to justify the ruling.
Side by Side has been held in St. Petersburg since 2007 and has recently expanded its activities to several other Russian cities, including Tomsk, Arkhangelsk, Perm, Novosibirsk and Moscow, holding screenings and public discussions related to LGBT issues.
Among the films screened at the festival’s most recent editions were I Am a Woman Now by Dutch director Michiel Van Erp and Sasha by Germany’s Dennis Todorovic.
Since a local law forbidding “propaganda of homosexuality” was enacted in St. Petersburg last year, the city has become unfriendly to its LGBT community. U.S. singer Madonna played a show in the city last summer, during which she voiced her concerns about the anti-gay legislation. Charges were brought against her for the violation of the law on “propaganda of homosexuality,” but the case was later dismissed.