Russia: Expanded ban on ‘gay propaganda’ makes strides towards law

(Tbilisi) – Russia’s State Duma unanimously endorsed a new bill to further restrict freedom of expression related to sexual orientation and gender identity, Human Rights Watch said today. The proposals prohibit sharing positive and even neutral information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and publicly displaying non-heterosexual orientation, with heavy fines for non-compliance. The law now has to be approved by the Upper House of Parliament and the President.

The original ban on “gay propaganda,” introduced in 2013, was designed to protect children from “propaganda,” which is broadly defined as any positive or neutral depiction or discussion of non-heterosexual relationships. While the bill retains increased penalties when children are involved, it expands it to a blanket ban that covers any public information or activity.

The new ban would isolate children from all information about alternative sexual orientation and gender identity, including gender switching. It provides for fines of up to $6,500 for individuals and $81,000 for legal entities such as NGOs for disseminating such information. The draft law classifies the display of non-heterosexual relationships or orientations as “information harmful to children’s health and development” and requires that websites and other online sources that contain information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people , can be blocked. The proposed law makes no exceptions for arts, scientific studies or education. The law also continues false and harmful messages that attempt to associate LGBT people with pedophiles, repeatedly referencing “propaganda promoting non-traditional sexual relationships and (or) preferences, pedophilia and gender reassignment.”

“The 2013 ‘Pro-Gay Propaganda’ law was a blatant example of political homophobia, and the new bill amplifies that in a broader and harsher way,” said Tanya Lokshina, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Just as the original law resulted in significant stigma and harm to LGBT people in Russia, this updated version will have an even more crushing impact on freedom of expression, well-being and security.”

The 2013 “gay propaganda” law was used extensively by the government to suppress pro-LGBT events and shut down organizations and online media. The ban clearly violates the right to non-discrimination and the right to give and receive information, particularly with regard to children. This has been extensively documented by Human Rights Watch. Authorities used the law to harass children for attending cultural events, as well as promoting arts that teach tolerance and LGBT-related social media posts.

In 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee found the 2013 law “ambiguous, disproportionate and discriminatory” and denounced “a blanket restriction on legitimate expressions of sexual orientation”. The European Court of Human Rights reiterated similar conclusions, specifically that “differences based solely on sexual orientation considerations under the [European Convention on Human Rights]’ and that Russian legislation establishing the inferiority of same-sex relationships is unjustifiable.

In November 2022, after examining Russia’s fulfillment of its rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee reiterated its “significant concern about institutionalized discrimination and stigma against LGBT people”, including through the said law and its proposed amendments and demanded their repeal. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also called on Russian lawmakers to repeal the law rather than expand it, noting the negative impact of exclusion, stigma and discrimination on society.

The new proposed law goes even further by undermining Russia’s obligations under international law to protect freedom of expression and prevent discrimination.

“Like its predecessor, this law does not protect anyone, but tries to stir up fear and hatred towards a minority. It cuts children off from the services they need to thrive and even survive in some cases,” Lokshina said. “The proposed legislation and the original ban on ‘gay propaganda’ have no place in any society and belong in the trash.”

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