Gay activists were attacked and then arrested outside Russia’s parliament as lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a bill that will ban “gay propaganda” aimed at under-18s. The Duma passed the bill, which outlaws the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”, by 436 votes to zero, with one abstention.
The bill will now become law if it is approved by Russia’s upper house of parliament and then signed by President Vladimir Putin, who has already expressed his support for it. The bill is the most criticised element of a series of measures that activists say makes a difficult situation for gay people in Russia even worse. Individuals who violate the law can be fined up to £100, while the penalty for organisations can be up to £20,000. Foreigners found to be promoting gay equality in violation of the law will be arrested and immediately deported.
More than 20 of the protesters who gathered outside parliament were attacked by extremist Orthodox Christians and pelted with eggs, stinging nettles and urine as they attempted to stage a “kissing protest”.
The law is modelled on regional legislation that outlaws “homosexual propaganda” in a number of Russian regions. Faced with criticism that the terminology of the law was so vague that it could be interpreted in many different ways, the organisers clarified the language before sending it back to parliament for its second and third readings.
The document now states that “propaganda” of gay relationships includes, “spreading information aimed at forming non- traditional sexual behaviour among children, suggesting this behaviour is attractive and making a false statement about the socially equal nature of traditional and non-traditional relationships”.
Gay-rights rallies and gay-pride marches have been banned in Russia as a matter of policy and the former Moscow Mayor famously referred to gay rallies as “a place for Satanists”. Surveys frequently show that many Russians feel gay people should be “treated” and there are almost no openly gay public figures. A television presenter, Anton Krasovsky, was fired earlier this year shortly after announcing his homosexuality on television. Mr Putin said recently that Russian laws do not discriminate against gay people in any way, but when the new bill comes into force it will be illegal to suggest that homosexuality is a normal life choice.
“The law is wrong from the start,” wrote Elena Kostyuchenko, a Russian investigative journalist who is a lesbian and was detained by police for taking part in the protest outside the Duma. “It states that to be gay or lesbian is not normal and divides people into two groups – first-class and second-class citizens… This law forbids us to talk openly about ourselves… and it prevents psychologists and teachers from defending gay teenagers from bullying and persuading them that they are normal.”
Peter Tatchell, who was beaten and arrested four times for participating in Moscow’s gay-pride parades, said: “This new law is symptomatic of Putin’s increasing authoritarianism and his crackdown on civil society. It violates the Russian constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, and the European Convention on Human Rights, which Russian has signed and pledged to uphold. Although the law is ostensibly aimed at prohibiting the dissemination of so-called gay propaganda to young persons under 18, in reality it will criminalise any public advocacy of gay equality, HIV education or welfare provision where a young person could see it. ”
The gay-rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev wrote on his Twitter page that he planned to appeal to the General Prosecutor’s office, asking it to investigate Elena Mizulina, one of the MPs behind the law, of inciting hatred against a social group.
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