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Disinformation is only one of the means the Kremlin employs to influence the information sphere. To control information, one needs to control the message, the messenger or the media.

Disinformation distorts the message, attacks the values and poisons the public discourse. The Kremlin has a history of attacking the messenger and especially the participants of the public discourse who are in opposition to it. Attempted murder, political violence and imprisonment are a real threat to those who express views critical towards the Kremlin leadership. Attacks on the media, the infrastructure for public discourse, is a third method to silence dissent. Revoking the licence for a TV-channel, blocking sites, forbidding software or closing a venue – like in St. Petersburg recently.

The evening of November 13. The patrons at a café in St Petersburg were enjoying their espressos and lattes and had possibly not expected a SWAT team from the local police to burst in. The boys in blue quickly established that coffee was being consumed by people not wearing masks and not respecting social distancing. The establishment was swiftly deemed hazardous and closed. St. Petersburg was saved again!

The St. Petersburg web news agency Fontanka raises the theory that the priority of the police was not the health of the citizens of St. Petersburg, but rather their “moral condition”. In a document, shared with the Fontanka, the proprietor of the café describes how a number of civilians entered the café shortly before the raid, requesting coffee and disregarding the staff’s call for social distancing. Minutes later, the police entered the premises.

The proprietor suspects the police mistakenly attacked the wrong establishment. A few days earlier, authorities closed an annual LGBTI-festival, Bok o Bok – “Side by Side” – for the same reasons: the event might lead to the spread of COVID-19. The organisers of the festival complied with the instructions from the authorities and decided to organise the festival in a virtual mode. All events were moved to an online format:

The proprietor of the café might regret naming his establishment Café Zoom and has requested help from the St. Petersburg Business Ombudsman to establish whether the raid against his café was the result of a mix-up. The organisers of the Bok o Bok festival comments that the café had no connection to the festival:

Café Zoom became involved because someone did not know the difference between the café and the online platform.

St. Petersburg authorities have been fiercely attacking the festival for several years, using various pretexts, false claims and even thugs to scare away visitors. The organisers remain determined to demand the right to the public sphere:

Despite under-hand measures, illegal activities of extremist groups and exploitation of positions of power by certain individuals, the Side by Side LGBT Film Festival will continue to exercise the right to gather, to give people the freedom of choice to access information, participate in debate and intellectual thought.

The festival could go on in its online format, with movies, music, meetings with Russian and international writers, artists and activists.

Café Zoom is still closed. The St. Petersburg authorities can report a glorious success.