The St. Petersburg legislative assembly should halt a bill that
would deny freedom of expression to the local gay community, Human
Rights Watch said today.
The Russian city's assembly is scheduled tomorrow to hold a second
reading on a bill that would impose penalties for "public
activities to promote sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and
Those promoting the bill claim it is to protect minors from LGBT
"propaganda." Individuals found responsible would face fines up to
5,000 rubles (US$160), and organizations would face fines up to
50,000 rubles (US$1,600).
The bill's language is so vague and broad that it could lead to a
ban on displaying a rainbow flag or wearing a T-shirt with a
gay-friendly logo or even on LGBT-themed rallies in the city.
"This bill is a blatant attack on freedom of expression and a
thinly disguised attempt to silence Russia's LGBT community," said
Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights
"The effort to have this law adopted in St. Petersburg, known as
Russia's northern capital, is a test case for those who want to
entrench discrimination against the LGBT community throughout the
The bill would violate both Russia's constitution and
international human rights law on non-discrimination and freedom of
expression, Human Rights Watch said.
The St. Petersburg bill passed by a vote of 37 to 1 on the first
of its three readings in mid-November. Similar laws have already
been passed in two other Russian regions, in Ryazan in 2006 and in
Arkhangelsk in September 2011. Lyudmila Stebenkova, head of the
Moscow City Council's Committee on Health Care and Public Health,
said that the council was working on a draft of a similar law. The
speaker of the Federation Council, Valentina Matvienko has voiced
her support for the bill under consideration in St.
The bill would introduce two amendments to the St. Petersburg Law
on Administrative Offenses. In addition to the amendment banning
LBGT "propaganda," the bill would ban propaganda promoting
"The attempt to conflate pedophilia, which is a crime, with
homosexuality is a disgrace and should be exposed for the insidious
lie it is," Williamson said. "The bill's sponsors say they want to
protect children, but the bill is really about making the LGBT
The bill has caused outrage throughout the world. Many
nongovernmental organizations and activists have spoken out against
it and called on the Russian authorities to stop the bill from
being adopted. The US State Department and the UK Foreign Office
have also expressed their profound concern.
The environment for LGBT people in Russia is very hostile, and
LGBT activists are vulnerable to harassment and physical attack.
The authorities routinely ban and violently disperse gay
demonstrations. In October 2010 the European Court of Human Rights
found Russia in violation of freedom of assembly for repeatedly
denying activists the right to hold gay pride marches.
The court firmly rejected the Russian government's argument that
there was no general consensus on issues relating to the treatment
of sexual minorities. The ruling stated that there is "no
ambiguity" about "the right of individuals to openly identify
themselves as gay, lesbian or any other sexual minority, and to
promote their rights and freedoms, in particular by exercising
their freedom of peaceful assembly." Despite this legally binding
ruling, police violently dispersed the May 2011 gay pride gathering
in central Moscow, and on November 24 Moscow Mayor Yuri Sobyanin
said in a radio interview that he continued to oppose gay pride
parades in the nation's capital.
Russia is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights and the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to guarantee
the rights to non-discrimination, freedom of assembly, and
expression. Russia also supported a March 2010 recommendation from
the Committee of Ministers in the Council of Europe to end
discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender
identity. The document includes provisions for the right to freedom
of assembly and freedom of expression without discrimination on
grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Leaders of European Union member states should voice concern over
homophobic measures in Russia, particularly in advance of
December's EU-Russia summit meeting in Brussels, Human Rights Watch
"Russia is in the Council of Europe, it's a crucial partner for
the EU, and it should adhere to European standards on human
rights," Williamson said. "The federal government also needs to
send an unambiguous message to its cities and regions that Russia
will not stand for this."