March 12 Update
On March 7, 2012, the governor of St. Petersburg, Georgiy Poltavchenko, signed the draconian homophobic law banning so-called “propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderism, and pedophilia to minors.” The law goes into force 10 days after its official publication. Governor Poltavchenko’s failure to use his right of veto to stop this deplorable legislative initiative is profoundly disappointing, Human Rights Watch said. The prosecutor’s office of St. Petersburg should use its authority to insist that the city legislative assembly annul the law Human Rights Watch said. The prosecutor’s office should indicate that if the law is not annulled, they will refer the case to the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation.
(Moscow) – St. Petersburg Governor Georgiy Poltavchenko should veto a homophobic bill adopted by the city’s parliament, Human Rights Watch said today.
The St. Petersburg city parliament on February 29, 2012, adopted a bill that would impose fines on people engaging in “public activities to promote sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transsexuality” that might be observed by minors. The bill passed by a vote of 29 to 5 with one abstention. The governor has two weeks to veto the bill or sign it into law.
“February 29 was a dark day for St. Petersburg and for Russia as this damning anti-gay bill came one step closer to becoming law,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.“The governor now has an opportunity to uphold the rule of law and stop this discriminatory and dangerous initiative in Russia’s northern capital.”
The bill would introduce two amendments to the St. Petersburg Law on Administrative Offenses. In addition to the amendment banning lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered, (LGBT) “propaganda,” the bill would ban propaganda promoting pedophilia, insidiously linking two unrelated issues, Human Rights Watch said. People found guilty of violating the law would face fines of up to 50,000 rubles (US$1,700), and organizations would face fines of up to 500,000 rubles (US$17,000).
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 holding LGBT-themed rallies in the city. The vote in St. Petersburg followed the approval of similar laws in other parts of Russia – in Ryazan in 2006, in Arkhangelsk in September 2011, and in Kostroma in February 2012. Those promoting the bill claim it is aimed at protecting minors from LGBT “propaganda.”
“The bill is setting a dangerous precedent by maliciously linking pedophilia with homosexuality – it only serves to stoke existing homophobic sentiment in society,” Williamson said. “It also sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of expression more generally.”
The bill has already caused international outrage. 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, the UK Foreign Office, the Australian Government, and the European Parliament have also expressed 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 European 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.”
Russia is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to guarantee the rights not to be discriminated against, and to 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.
“Russia has clear human rights duties and this bill flies in the face of Russia’s obligations to protect its LGBT citizens,” Williamson said. “The governor can now send a message that St. Petersburg will not tolerate such blatant homophobia or become a negative example for other Russian regions.”