U.S. Should Press Russia on Anti-Homosexuality Law
New York City – Human Rights First calls on the U.S. State Department to demand a clear answer from Russia about its planned treatment of gay athletes and spectators at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Earlier this week, a spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak said that a new law banning the propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientation would be “suspended” for the Olympics, yet the country’s Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko later warned foreign athletes that engaging in “homosexual propaganda” would lead to criminal prosecution.
“We need a definitive answer on this one from President Putin and not his ministers or deputies’ spokespersons,” said Human Rights First’s Innokenty Grekov. “Without a legal definition of ‘propaganda’ or ‘nontraditional’—key operative words in the new antigay law—we are not getting a clear picture of how the authorities will apply the law. The legislation is ambiguous enough that it should be repealed independent of the Olympics. This ambiguity creates space for discriminatory abuse of LGBT persons, both foreign and Russian citizens.”
Putin signed legislation banning the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors” on June 30, after it was near-unanimously passed by the State Duma. Russian activists expect the law will be used selectively to prosecute outspoken activists and LGBT human rights defenders.
Putin’s official position on the law has undergone a dramatic shift in recent years. Prior attempts to criminalize “homosexual propaganda” in Russia had failed after receiving fierce rebuttals from the prime minister’s office. In February 2006, then-Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov (currently serving as a deputy speaker of the State Duma and the president of Russia’s Olympic Committee), submitted an official recall to a proposed antigay law, arguing that the bill contradicted Russia’s criminal code, which doesn’t allow for the criminalization of propaganda for noncriminial behavior, that it contained “a row of mistakes and judicial-technical inexactitudes,” and made it impossible to clearly define the body of a crime. A May 2004 rebuttal from Zhukov was even more forthcoming, as he pointed out that the bill “contradicts article 29 of the Russian Constitution, as well as articles 8, 10, and 14 of the European Convention on human rights.”
“Putin has faced questions about the country’s treatment of gays on his trips abroad and from independent media outlets in Russia. Foreign governments must keep pushing this issue until we have a clear answer on how Russia will act in Sochi. When Foreign Minster Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu come to Washington next week, they should hear the United States’ concerns. If President Obama travels to Moscow and Saint Petersburg in September, he should demand a clear answer. Putin has built a system where his authority is final and absolute, he should tell us how his courts are planning to define ‘propaganda’ and ‘nontraditional’ in Sochi and beyond, and against whom this discriminatory law will be used,” concluded Grekov.