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A website for a local Russian LGBTQ+ film festival has been banned by the country’s government.

Since 2008, the Side by Side LGBT film festival has been a staple for the country’s queer community.

The event, which usually takes place in St Petersberg, was moved to an online format due to the ongoing pandemic.

According to a report from Deadline, the main website for the LGBTQ+ event was banned by government officials without warning.

Organisers for Side by Side have claimed that the action was initiated due to complaints from conservative groups.

Even though the main site has been pulled, the festival’s third party online cinema remained available for the event’s planned screenings.

The festival’s founder, Manny de Guerre, has since opened up about the group’s legal plans in a statement.

“We consider the decision to add our site to this blacklist illegal – receiving no advance warning from Roskomnadzor [The Federal Service for Supervision of Communications], nor the chance to defend our case in the courts,” he explained.

“We are currently consulting with our legal team and are taking further action.”

De Guerre went on to encourage attendees to “forge ahead” with the festival’s regular program and listed the resources that people could use for communication.

“Year after year – despite growing audience numbers, greater interest in LGBT issues – Side by Side comes under attack from homophobes, who often resort to criminal activity,” he said.

“We remain persistent, however, and will continue our right and fight to protect the freedoms of LGBT persons.”

The censorship news also reached the director Peeter Rebane, whose new movie Firebird was included in the festival’s screening lineup.

Taking to Instagram, the 48-year-old director said he was “deeply saddened” by the news.

“This is one of the very few LGBTIQ+ festivals in Russia which fills an important gap in the Russian society by giving a voice to the community,” he said.

“Instead of investigating the film festival, Russian authorities should be investigating the organizers of such cyber attacks. I feel this information needs to be shared, so we can all support the festival and help bring more love and understanding to societies around the world.

“Imagine living in the UK with a government which shuts down BFI Flare’s website after someone complains about screening of a love story between two men? This is the kind of persecution which same sex families face daily in Russia today.”

The closure of Side by Side’s website joins the growing list of government crackdowns within the country’s LGBTQ+ spaces.

In 2013, there was global outrage from human rights groups when Russia introduced a ban on gay content.

There have since been proposals from the ruling United Russia party to restrict what it referred to as propaganda of polyamory and bisexuality.

Vladimir Putin also banned gay marriage and passed other anti-LGBTQ+ constitutional amendments in a national referendum last year.


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