Russian Federation: Stop the anti-LGBT law now

Urgent Appeal
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Paris-Geneva, June 14, 2013. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), calls on the Federal Council of Russia (Upper House) to reject the law that prohibits “propaganda on non-traditional sexual relations”, which was adopted by the Russian Duma on June 11, 2013. The discriminatory bill contradicts international standards that bind Russia as well as the Russian Constitution, which guarantees equal rights to all Russian citizens, and risks to paralyse the work of LGBT activists and NGOs promoting universal values of human rights for all. If it comes into force, this bill will have a further negative impact on the drastically deteriorating plight of human rights defenders in the Russian Federation.

The bill bans ’propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’, which is defined as ’spreading information aimed at forming non-traditional sexual desires in children, describing such relations as attractive, promoting a distorted understanding of the social equality of traditional and non-traditional relations and through unwanted exposure to information that could provoke interest to such relations’. Under the pretext of protecting the rights of minors, the law bans de facto not only any demonstrations and gatherings by LGBT activists, but aims at silencing them also on-line. It aims to punish and wipe out any expressions of tolerance towards homosexual, bisexual and transgender people, and by consequence stop all the possible work on protection of the social, political, economic and civil rights of these groups.

Russian Duma adopted the text hastily on June 11, 2013 in two final readings, almost unanimously: 436 parliamentarians voted in favour, only one abstained, there were no votes against. The day of the adoption, the activists protesting against the bill at the entrance of the National Assembly were attacked by violent nationalist protesters. The special polices forces failed to protect them and only arrested the anti-bill demonstrators. Other activists were also later assaulted on their way home.

If adopted, the new law exposes offenders to heavy fines. Individuals may face a fine of 4,000 - 5,000 Roubles (93 - 116 EUR), while legal entities could pay between 800,000 and 1 million Roubles (18,713 - 23,291 EUR). Using mass media to spread any LGBT-friendly content increases the fine for individuals up to 50,000 - 100,000 Roubles (1,169 - 2,339 EUR). Foreigners are likewise covered by the bill and could face the same fines as Russian citizens and deportation or 15-50 days of arrest and deportation.

This bill is absolutely shameful and has no place in a country that wishes to call itself a democracy. It violates freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, it also harasses LGBT activists and advocates both in Russia and abroad. We call on the Federal Council of Russia and the Russian President to stop this law which tarnishes the image of Russia”, said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

Apart from paralysing the work of human rights defenders in Russia, this bill will lead to even more acts of discrimination and violence towards the LGBT community and human rights defenders in Russia, while the impunity for such acts already prevails. This must be prevented”, said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General.

Russian LGBT organisations already face numerous persecutions, most notably under the new ’foreign agent’ law, adopted in 2012, which targets NGOs that receive foreign funding and are engaged in ’political activities’. In a climate of media smear campaigns, LGBT defenders were among the first associations to be charged under this new law. On June 7, 2013 the ’Side by Side’ LGBT film festival was charged of conducting “political activities” without being registered as a ’foreign agent’ and fined to 0.5 million roubles (11,739 EUR). Another LGBT organisation from St Petersburg, ’Coming Out’ (Vyhod), is currently on trial. Its second hearing held on June 11 was attended by an organised group of nationalists, which aggressively insulting the activists. To prevent violence, after the hearing the members of ’Coming Out’ had to be escorted by the police. The hearing was preceded by an attack on LGBT activists in St Petersburg on June 10, when they peacefully protested against the law on ’propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’. Despite all this they are determined to continue their work for the estimated five-million-strong LGBT community in Russia.

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