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Russia: Threats, intimidation and physical attack against organisers of Side by Side LGBT International Film Festival
Organisers of the Side by Side Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) International Film Festival held in the Siberian town of Novosibirsk from 5-7 June were subjected to threats and intimidation.
Prior to the planned opening of the Side by Side film festival in Kemerovo on 1 June 2012, organisers were also subjected to threats by the far-right group named 'Russian Patriot Club', based in nearby Novokuznetsk. A local festival coordinator was physically attacked on 3 June. The Side by Side LGBT International Film Festival was founded in 2007 in Saint Petersburg, with the aim of creating dialogue and promoting respect of LGBT rights through the use of film.
On 6 June 2012, the second day of the Side by Side film festival in Novosibirsk, a group of approximately thirty homophobic youths surrounded the building where the screenings were taking place. Police were present and requested the crowd to leave. They did so, but returned minutes later. As festival organisers left the screening at 9pm under police security, an attempt was made to smash the rear passenger window of the taxi in which they were travelling, and their vehicle was pursued by cars and motorbikes. Although police did not intervene in the pursuit, the organisers managed to escape.
Prior to the planned opening of the festival in Kemerovo on 1 June, organisers received threats from the Russian Patriot Club. These threats were reported to the police, who failed to act on the information. Organisers subsequently met with local law enforcement bodies and administration, who refused to provide protection at the festival. A letter from the Mayor of Kemerovo, Mr Vladimir Mikhailov, delivered to the festival local coordinator at the meeting stated that the event was “undesirable“ and caused a “negative reaction from residents and community organisations”. Shortly after the meeting, two venues in which the festival was scheduled to take place received warnings from local authorities not to hold the festival on their premises. Both venues pulled out two days prior to the festival start.
At that point, an inspector from the Office of Ministry of Internal Affairs agreed to provide protection to festival visitors, and an alternative venue had been located. However the venue subsequently withdrew its participation, reportedly within hours of the local authorities learning of the new venue. The festival organisers managed to hold a day of screenings on 3 June in an undisclosed location. However, on that same day, the local festival coordinator was physically attacked by two members of the Russian Patriot Club in the centre of Kemerovo. The attack took place outside the local theatre where people had gathered in order to be taken by bus to the undisclosed venue. A complaint of the attack was lodged with the police.
This is the third time that the Side by Side LGBT International Film Festival has been held in the Russian Federation, during which organisers, as well as visitors, have been subjected to serious acts of threats and intimidation. The Russian Patriot Club also reportedly threatened visitors at a Side by Side event in March 2012.
Front Line Defenders expresses concern at the threats and intimidation received by the organisers of Side by Side LGBT International Film Festival from the Russian Patriot Club, and also at the failure of the local authorities and police to provide them with proper protection and to recognise the legitimate role that the festival plays in the promotion of LGBTI rights in the Russian Federation. Front Line Defenders also expresses concern at the physical attack of the local festival coordinator in Kemerovo, and calls for a full and impartial investigation into the incident.