Russian parliament backs ban on “homosexual propaganda” in its first reading
On 24 January 2013, the Russian parliament backed a bill banning ‘homosexual propaganda’ in its first reading. The bill faces two more readings in the State Duma, after which it must be approved by the upper house and signed by President Vladimir Putin before it can become law. If passed, it would mean that across Russia events promoting gay rights – appearing anywhere a minor might see it – would be banned and the organizers fined as much as 500.000 roubles (approximately 16.600 USD). Events might include anything from gay pride parades to leaflets advocating gay rights. Similar laws have already been passed by Russian cities such as St Petersburg.
Reuters quotes Lyudmila Alexeyeva, veteran human rights activist and founding member of the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group, as describing the draft law as “medieval”. She underlined that “it [the Duma] is relying on the ignorance of people who think homosexuality is some sort of distortion.” In fact, many polls show that the majority of Russians have problems accepting homosexuality. Hence, the draft legislation can also be seen as an attempt by President Putin to consolidate his grip on power by appealing to conservative sentiments within the Russian population and by securing the support of the Russian Orthodox Church.
However, the draft law is curbing freedom of expression as well as freedom of assembly, and it also fails to improve the situation of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people in Russia, who frequently face physical assault, an offence which can be considered as hate crime.
The Russian Federation committed itself in the 1990 Copenhagen Document to the right of “peaceful assembly and demonstration” as well as to the right to freedom of expression including “freedom to hold opinion and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority […].” The Copenhagen Document also spells out that “all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law will prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground.” (Read the full text of the 1990 Copenhagen Document here.)
Moreover, OSCE participating States have committed themselves to ensuring human rights and fundamental freedoms for everyone within their territories and subject to their jurisdiction, “without distinction of any kind such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” (Read the full text of the Concluding Document of the Vienna Meeting 1986 of Representatives of the Participating States of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe here.)
Physical assaults against LGBT people in Russia have been frequently reported by human rights groups. This was also reflected in the ODIHR Hate Crimes Report for 2011. It is the responsibility of the Russian government to protect the rights of LGBT people and to allow the promotion of gay rights in public. The Russian Federation should therefore reconsider the bill.
The new bill, should it become law, is yet another negative development in the Russian Federation after the condemnation of the punk band Pussy Riot and the crackdown on foreign-funded NGOs, among others.