Russia labels LGBT rights group, lawyers as ‘foreign agents’

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities named a prominent LGBT rights group and several lawyers as “foreign agents” on Monday night, continuing a months-long crackdown on activists, opposition supporters and independent media.

The Justice Ministry added the Russian LGBT Network, prominent lawyer Ivan Pavlov and four of his former colleagues to its registry of “foreign agents.” The designation implies additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations that can discredit recipients.

The Russian LGBT Network has advocated for civil rights in Russia since 2006 and has 17 branches across the country. The group is well-known both in Russia and abroad for its effort to rescue gay men and lesbians from Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim region in the Russian south where local authorities were reported to have unleashed a violent crackdown on LGBT people.

Pavlov and four other activists added to the list used to be part of Team 29, an association of lawyers and journalists specializing in treason and espionage cases and freedom of information issues. Team 29 shut down earlier this year, fearing prosecution of its members and supporters, after authorities accused the group of spreading content from a Czech nongovernmental organization that had been declared “undesirable” in Russia.

In April, Russian authorities launched a criminal case against Pavlov, who was representing a former Russian journalist accused of treason. They accused Pavlov, who has since left Russia and resettled in Georgia, of disclosing information related to a police investigation.

The Russian LGBT Network said in a statement that it would continue to operate and contest the designation in court.

“We don’t know why we have been declared a ‘foreign agent.’ The Russian LGBT Network disagrees with this status. We are not involved in political activities, we offer legal and psychological aid (and) defend the rights of the LGBT+ community,” the statement read.

Pavlov echoed the group’s sentiment in a Facebook post and promised to fight the designation, adding that he had expected it.

In recent months, the Russian government has designated a number of independent media outlets, journalists and human rights groups as “foreign agents.” At least two disbanded to avoid a further crackdown.

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