QueerFest hampered by bomb threats and cancelled venues
QueerFest, one of the biggest LGBTQ-events in Russia and supported by Civil Rights Defenders, opened on 18 September in St. Petersburg. Since the start the festival has been plagued by threats, violence and last minute cancellations of contracts for venues.
The contract for the festivals’ main venue was cancelled 1,5 hours before the scheduled opening on September 18. The reason, given by the owner, was that the integrity of the arch above the entrance was compromised, which could result in a collapse. However, all other events in the building proceeded as planned. Despite this setback the festivals’ volunteers moved the exhibition and equipment to a new venue and the opening took place as scheduled.
Although the opening attracted over 160 participants and was considered a success, people were still harassed and some were physically attacked. To ensure the event ran relatively smoothly the QueerFest’s Security Team had to barricade the main door as a result of a group of anti-gay protestors who showed up and began attacking visitors with a green spray substance and a foul smelling gas.
The Police and Human Rights Ombudsman in St. Petersburg were alerted to the event but none of the assailants have yet been detained.
“Civil Rights Defenders is deeply concerned about the situation. We urge the authorities in St Petersburg to ensure that the attacks at the opening of the festival are properly investigated and that the perpetrators are brought to justice” says Roemer Lemaître, Acting Programme Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia
After the opening, numerous venues have continued to be cancelled with different reasons given by various owners.
Events at the well reputable venue ”Etazhi” were forced to shut down due to the ending of a contract from the renter’s side. According to the organisers’ the renters received phone calls from the police that pressured them to cancel the contract.
The event “Night of Independent Music” was moved to a new location due to cancellation of the contract from the renter. A bomb threat – which later turned out to be false – was received halfway through the concert.
The Institute of Regional Press was hosting a press conference named; “Who is Shutting Down QueerFest?” but had difficulties to go through with the conference due to external pressure. According to a press release from the organisers it wasn’t extremists, but the police that attempted to end the press conference. Despite these attempts the press conference proceeded as planned.
The press release also states that there is proof of the police pressuring the owners of venues to cancel QueerFest’s contracts. As a consequence, the organisers are no longer openly publishing information about venues but are instead inviting a wider public to view the events online.Categories: News.