(New York) – Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law has served as a tool for anti-gay discrimination in the year since it entered into force, even though Russian authorities have fined only four people for violating it. The law’s adoption also coincided with the spread of violence and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and LGBT rights activists and a rise in homophobic hate speech by some Russian officials and public figures, Human Rights Watch research found.
The law, passed unanimously by the Russian parliament, entered into force on June 30, 2013. It bans the dissemination among children of “propaganda for nontraditional sexual relationships,” broadly understood to be lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships. The law denies LGBT people equal social standing and implies that their identities and relationships are unnatural and perverse, Human Rights Watch said.
“This law openly discriminates against LGBT people, legitimizes anti-LGBT violence, and seeks to erase LGBT people from the country’s public life,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities have fined only four people, but that is four too many.”
Courts in two Russian cities fined a total of three LGBT activists for holding one-person pickets in public spaces while holding placards with messages of support for LGBT rights. The placards bore such messages as, “There is no such thing as gay propaganda,” and “Being gay and loving gays is normal.”
A court in Russia’s Far East fined a regional newspaper for publishing an interview with a gay teacher who had been fired for his LGBT activism and sexual orientation. In late 2013, a court in Khabarovsk dropped a similar case against another news outlet which was accused of violating the law because it published an online petition in support of the same teacher.
Authorities in Nizhni Tagil filed a “propaganda” case against an activist for administrating a social network group, Deti-404 (Children-404), which offers a safe online pace for LGBT children to discuss their problems and receive support. The court, however, did not find any evidence of propaganda for “nontraditional sexual relationships” in Deti-404, and the case was dismissed.
“The law’s authors claimed that LGBT ‘propaganda’ was widespread and that Russian children had to be protected, so it is all the more striking that only a handful of cases were filed,” Williamson said. “But it has been clear from the start that this law was not conceived out of concern for children.”
The propaganda law has become a tool for discrimination and harassment against LGBT people, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch documented seven cases in six Russian regions in which LGBT people who worked as educators were either dismissed or forced to resign following complaints – in some cases public, in others anonymous – that they could spread “propaganda” of non-heterosexual orientation to children. Several LGBT people who lost their jobs told Human Rights Watch that their dismissal or forced resignation was preceded by a public campaign by groups of parents and citizens allegedly concerned for the morals and well-being of their children. In most cases, campaigns referred to the “propaganda” law as grounds for demanding the person’s resignation or dismissal.
Human Rights Watch was unable to interview two LGBT activists who according to the Russian LGBT Network faced pressure from the university where they work.
Law enforcement authorities and homophobic groups also use the “propaganda law” to justify harassing LGBT activists and disrupting their public events. Activists overwhelmingly told Human Rights Watch about routine disruptions to public events in support of LGBT rights in the past year. Activists from several Russian regions said that local authorities refused to grant them permission to hold public events, citing the “propaganda” law and the risk that children might be exposed to the proposed events.
The “propaganda” law consists of amendments to the Law on Protection of Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development and the Code of Administrative Violations.
Under the law, people found responsible for “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships among minors” face fines of between 4,000 and 5,000 rubles (US$120 to $150); government officials face fines of 40,000 to 50,000 rubles ($1,200 to $1,450); and organizations, up to 1 million rubles ($30,000) or a suspension of activity for up to 90 days. Heavier fines may be imposed for the same actions if the “propaganda” is carried out using mass media and telecommunications, including the Internet. Foreigners found to be in violation can be deported.
In the years before the adoption of the federal law, similar laws had been passed in 11 Russian regions. In Kaliningrad, providing propaganda for homosexuality was banned for everyone, not just for children.
“The ‘propaganda’ law doesn’t protect anyone,” Williamson said. “This law only jeopardizes the safety and rights of Russia’s LGBT community, and it should be immediately repealed.”
Cases of Anti-LGBT “Propaganda” Law Enforcement
On December 3, 2013, a court in the northern Russian city of Arkhangelsk found that two Russian LGBT rights activists, Nikolai Alexeyev and Yaroslav Yevtushenko, had violated the federal anti-LGBT “propaganda” law because they stood next to a children’s library in Arkhangelsk with a sign that said, “There’s no such thing as gay propaganda, you don’t become gay, you’re born gay.” The activists were each fined 4,000 rubles ($120). These were the first court cases brought under the anti-LGBT law.
In January 2014, GayRussia.eu, Alexeyev’s online news outlet, reported that an appeals court in Arkhangelsk had upheld the first instance court decision. The activists have filed a case with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) challenging their conviction, GayRussia.eu reported.
The third person found to have violated the law is Dmitry Isakov, an LGBT activist from Kazan, a city 800 kilometers east of Moscow. A Kazan court fined Isakov 4,000 rubles ($120) because on June 30, 2013, he held a one-minute picket on the city’s central square, holding a placard that said, “Being gay and loving gays is normal; beating gays and killing gays is criminal.”
Isakov told Human Rights Watch, “This decision hits everyone who wants to be free to choose whom to love.” He said his brief protest had nothing to do with propaganda: “I wanted to bring attention to the violence against LGBT people by nationalist groups who equal gays with pedophiles, and to killings of