Russia claims it needs its anti-“gay propaganda” law to protect children, but actually the law “directly harms them through denying them access to essential information and creating a stigma against LGBT children and LGBT family members,” Human Rights Watch says in a new report.
That’s one of the conclusions in HRW’s new publication about Russia’s restrictions on freedom of speech:
Russia: Assault on Freedom of Expression
Repressive Laws and Policies Restrict Online Speech, Stifle Critical Voices
Excerpts from the report’s discussion of “gay propaganda” include the following, with subheads added for clarity:
The basics of Law № 135-FZ, the “Gay Propaganda” Ban
Law № 135-FZ, which has the stated aim of “protecting children”, prohibits “promoting the denial of traditional family values,” by promoting, in particular, “non-traditional sexual relations.” In Russia, “non-traditional sexual relations” are broadly understood to mean relationships among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
Under law, promoting “non-traditional sexual relations” to children includes: “spreading information aimed at instilling in children non-traditional sexual arrangements, the attractiveness of non-traditional sexual relations and/or a distorted view that society places an equal value on traditional and non-traditional sexual relations or propagating information on non-traditional sexual relations making them appear interesting.”
The law consists of a series of amendments to the law “On Protection of Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development and to the Code of Administrative Violations.” Online information deemed to represent “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” can be added to [an] “internet blacklist” ….
The “propaganda” ban applies to information provided via press, television, radio, and the internet, and encompasses anything portraying LGBT relationships as normal or healthy. Under the law, people found responsible for “promotion of non-traditional sexual relations” to any child under 18, an administrative infraction, face fines of up to 5,000 rubles (US$82); government officials face fines of 40,000 t0 50,000 ($660 to $826); and organizations, up to 1 million rubles ($16,521) or a suspension of activity for up to 90 days. Heavier fines may be imposed for the same actions if done through mass media and telecommunications, including the internet. …
Homophobia vs. homosexuality
The report’s section on the anti-“gay propaganda” law begins with a Russian official’s pro-homophobia quotation:
“Homophobia is the natural state of any person. If they come up with a day against homophobia, then we can create a day against homosexuality because homophobia is much less harmful than homosexuality.”
−Vitali Milonov, politician, member of the State Duma for United Russia
How the law is applied
… [Any] positive information about “nontraditional sexual relations” is effectively prohibited from public discussion in Russia. The purported rationale behind Russia’s federal-level “gay propaganda” ban is that portraying same sex-relations as socially acceptable and of equal value to heterosexual relations supposedly threatens the intellectual, moral, and mental well-being of children. While purporting to protect children, the ban in fact directly harms them through denying them access to essential information and creating a stigma against LGBT children and LGBT family members.
On September 23, 2014, Russia’s Constitutional Court upheld the “gay propaganda” ban as protecting constitutional values such as “family and childhood.” The Court also found no interference with the right to privacy and did not view the ban as censoring debates about LGBT relations. Any information deemed to represent “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” can be included on the blacklist of banned websites established by the 2012 law aimed at protecting children from harmful information.
A legal opinion issued in June 2013 by the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory panel on legal matters, concluded that the draft of the adopted federal anti-LGBT law was “incompatible with [the European Convention on Human Rights] and international human rights standards” and should be repealed. The opinion found that the purpose of the law “is not so much to advance and promote traditional values and attitudes towards family and sexuality but rather to curtail nontraditional ones by punishing their expression and promotion.” The law drew widespread criticism from the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, among others.
During a periodic review in January 2014, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that Russian authorities “repeal its laws prohibiting propaganda of homosexuality and ensure that children who belong to LGBTI groups or children of LGBTI families are not subjected to any form of discrimination by raising awareness of the public on equality and non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
However, Russia has made no moves to comply with these recommendations and, at this writing, Russian courts have convicted at least six people for violating the federal anti-LGBT “propaganda” law.
Example 1: Elena Klimova from Nizhny Tagil
In November 2014, Roskomnadzor filed a complaint against Elena Klimova, founder of the Deti-404 group … and the administrator of the group’s online activities, alleging that the group’s activities contained “propaganda for nontraditional sexual relationships.”
Roskomnadzor claimed that the information published by Deti-404 “could cause children to think that to be gay means to be a person who is brave, strong, confident, persistent, who has a sense of dignity and self-respect.”
On January 23, 2015, a court in Nizhny Tagil found Klimova guilty of “spreading information containing propaganda about non-traditional sexual relations.” The court fined Klimova 50,000 rubles (US$828). However, on March 25, 2015, an appeals court sent the case for retrial, citing numerous procedural violations in the lower court. On July 23, 2015, the Nizhny Tagil court again convicted Klimova and ordered her to pay the fine.
Example 2: Sergei Alekseenko from Murmansk
On January 18, 2016, a court in Murmansk, in northwestern Russia, fined Sergei Alekseenko, an LGBT rights activist, for violating the gay propaganda ban.
Alekseenko is the former director of Maximum, a group in Murmansk that provided legal and psychosocial support to LGBT people. The court found that certain items posted on Maximum’s website contained positive information about LGBT relations and imposed a fine of 100,000 rubles (US$1,656). The ruling, which came after Maximum’s closure in October after being forced to register as a foreign agent, stated that as the head of the organization, Alekseenko was responsible for information posted on the group’s VKontakte page and that Alekseenko was fully aware that children might have access to the page. On April 1, the Murmansk city court upheld the district court’s decision.
Police told Alekseenko that they had received complaints from unidentified individuals about “illegal activities” on Maximum’s VK account. It also said that a psycho-linguistic evaluation, which investigators ordered in May, had found that several posts on the account contained “linguistic and psychological elements of propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.”
Alekseenko told Human Rights Watch that one of the posts deemed “gay propaganda” was a re-post from another user’s account stating, “Children! To be gay means to be a person who is brave, strong, confident, persistent, who has a sense of dignity and self-respect.” Another post was a poem by the 19th century Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov, describing a sexual scene between two young men.
- European court rules against Russian anti-gay law (June 2017, 76crimes.com)
- Chechnya gay rights: Activists with petition held in Moscow (May 11, 2017, BBC)
- Dozens of gay men saved from purge in Chechnya by daring Russian group (May 9, 2017, PinkNews)
- Protests, pressure seek to end abuses in Chechnya (May 6, 2017, 76crimes.com)
- Belarus weighs Russia-style anti-‘gay propaganda’ law (January 2016, 76crimes.com)
- Russian court: Anti-‘gay propaganda’ law is constitutional
- Kyrgyzstan on the verge of adopting harsh anti-gay law (June 2014, 76crimes.com)
- First conviction under Russia’s ‘gay propaganda’ law (December 2013, 76crimes.com)
- This blog’s archive of articles about Russia’s anti-“gay propaganda” law