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Russia Censors LGBT Online Groups

Court Warps Child Rights Arguments to Defend ‘Gay Propaganda’ Law

LGBT rights activists carry the rainbow flag during a May Day rally in St. Petersburg, Russia, May 1, 2018. © 2018 AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky

A Saint Petersburg court ruled last week that two lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) social media groups violated Russia’s notorious “gay propaganda” law and ordered the sites shuttered.

The groups – “Russian LGBT Community” and “Russia LGBT Network” – were hosted on VKontakte, a Russian social media platform similar to Facebook.

The court judgments state that the incriminating material was images representing same-sex relationships. The judge deemed this content as responsible for “rejecting family values, promoting non-traditional sexual relations and fostering disrespect for parents and/or other family members.”

Under the “gay propaganda” ban, adopted in 2013, portraying same-sex relations as socially acceptable is illegal. The rationale is that such information supposedly threatens the well-being of children.

The law has been used to target peaceful public protests, individuals’ social media posts, teachers, and Deti-404, a website providing psychosocial support for LGBT youth. It has been used to justify a criminal investigation of social workers who allowed a gay couple to adopt children, forcing the family to flee to the United States. Earlier this year, the European Court of Human Rights fined the government for using the law as the basis for denying registration to two LGBT groups.

Last year, Human Rights Watch wrote to the education ministry highlighting our research findings, which show that the law exacerbates the daily hostilities LGBT youth face and curtails the ability for mental health providers to intervene. The ministry’s response ignored concerns about violence and discrimination, and said the government was responsible for fostering “the spiritual and moral values of the people of the Russian Federation.”

In the new judgments, the court insisted that the law was protective of children’s rights. The decision even made oblique references the Convention on the Rights of the Child, claiming the government is protecting a child “from information and materials harmful to his well-being.”

A warped interpretation to be sure. Not to mention a legally insubstantial justification for its ruling.

In 2014, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child made clear that Russia’s law “encourages the stigmatization of and discrimination” against LGBT people. The committee also affirmed children’s rights to receive and share information about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Far from offering protection, the law endangers LGBT youth. This latest ruling for censorship is just another example of LGBT discrimination.

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