Metro Weekly

Gay Nightclub Owner Arrested for “Extremism” in Russia

The owner and employees of the nightclub Pose could face up to 10 years in prison for allegedly promoting "LGBT propaganda."

Photo: Heizfrosch, via Dreamstime

The owner of a popular gay bar in the Russian city of Orenburg was arrested for “extremism” last week, just a few weeks after the club’s art director and manager were arrested on similar charges.

Vyacheslav Khasanov, the owner of the LGBTQ nightclub Pose, was detained at the Moscow airport on March 29 and taken into custody, accused of “organizing the work of an extremist cell,” according to Mediazona

The club, which opened in 2021, regularly hosted drag parties. After the adoption of Russia’s expanded law barring “LGBT propaganda,” it marketed itself as a “bar-theater of parodies” and “a night bar with a show program.”

The bar’s managers also did not write the address on social media networks, in the hope of protecting patrons from police and anti-LGBTQ vigilantes.

Khasanov’s arrest came 20 days after the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, along with riot police, raided the nightclub.

Patrons and performers, some in their underwear, were filmed being forced to lie on the floor or stand against the wall, and then asked what they were doing in the “f*g club.” Video footage of the raid — with the faces of police blurred out, but not those of the nightclub’s patrons — was later posted to a page for the pro-government movement “Russian Community of Orenburg” on the social media site VKontakte.

According to the social media post, seven of the patrons were foreign citizens from former Soviet republics, and allegedly four were “minors”– though the video footage showing patrons’ faces appears to show people much older than 21 lined up against the bar.

The post also claimed that the bar had sold “alcoholic products” without having the proper licensing or documentation. Police also confiscated some of the performers’ outfits and wigs.

However, pro-government forces and media outlets in Russia have been known to lie about alleged offenses to mislead and convince Russian citizens to support raids against LGBTQ establishments, which Russian authorities have viewed as a potential breeding ground for anti-war propaganda and liberal Western-style political ideologies.

Following that raid, Alexander Klimov, the club’s art director, and its administrator, Diana Kamilyanova, were arrested and detained on charges of “promoting non-traditional sexual relationships” and of being members of an “extremist organization.” Both of those employees, as well as the club’s owner, are expected to remain in pre-trial detention until May 18, according to the rights group OVD-Info.

If convicted, all three could face up to 10 years in prison.

The prosecutions are the first of their kind brought against workers at an LGBTQ establishment since the Russian Supreme Court declared the “international LGBT social movement” an “extremist organization” last November. Since then, authorities have been empowered to prosecute anyone believed to be engaging in pro-LGBTQ activism or displaying symbols representing the LGBTQ community, reports The Moscow Times.

While the Pose club employees and owner are the first to be charged with “extremism,” Russian security forces and local police have sought to crack down on demonstrations of LGBTQ visibility with zeal. In February, police raided and shut downMy Little Pony-themed convention, on the grounds that it was promoting pro-LGBTQ and anti-government propaganda.

Several LGBTQ nightclubs, bars, and saunas catering to LGBTQ individuals in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other cities have been raided by police sinc the Supreme Court decision.

In February, a woman was arrested and charged with spreading “LGBT propaganda” for wearing rainbow-colored earrings, while another woman was prosecuted for displaying a rainbow Pride flag on her Instagram account.

Human rights advocates and organizations, including Amnesty International, have denounced the prosecution of Pose’s staff members.

“What LGBTQ persons and human rights activists have feared since the end of last year has finally come to pass,” Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Russia Director, said in a statement.

“Such cooperation between law enforcement and nationalist activists fosters an environment of impunity for homophobic and transphobic attacks and instigates a climate of fear among LGBTI persons. It is imperative to ensure that all human rights are enjoyed by everyone without exception.”

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