60 LGBT activists arrested as propaganda law adopted in Russia
THE OSLO TIMES – ARTICLE19 –
Riot police officers detain gay rights activists Maxim Lysak and Jury Gavrikov during an authorized gay rights rally in St. Petersburg on 29 June 2013.
ARTICLE 19 condemns President Putin’s adoption of a federal ban on “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships”, and the arbitrary arrest of up to 60 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists at a St. Petersburg gay pride demonstration on 29 June.
“The arrest and detention of those exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly is unacceptable. The attempt to criminalise such actions by repressive legislation is increasingly becoming the hallmark of the current Russian administration and ARTICLE 19 calls on the international community to exert far greater pressure on Russia to conform to its international human rights commitments,” states Dr Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.
“ARTICLE 19 strongly denounces this nationwide ban on so-called ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships’ by the Russian government. Such a ban not only discriminates against LGBT persons, but creates illegitimate restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, violating international human rights standards,” she added.
Police arrested around 60 people during the gay pride demonstration held in support of human rights and equality for people of different sexual orientations and gender identities in St. Petersburg on 29 June 2013. Despite the pride being approved by the city authorities, a local organisation called the Russian LGBT Network, reported that police officers at the site failed to act adequately in order to prevent violence by counter-protestors who had also gathered at the site. As a result many of the gay pride participants were beaten up by anti-LGBT counter-demonstrators, several of whom were also arrested. Around half a dozen LGBT activists were hospitalised as a result of their injuries.
“The attackers planned and coordinated their actions in advance. They justified their actions as acceptable under the new laws banning so-called ‘homosexual propaganda’ (or propaganda of ‘non-traditional sexual relations’) at the regional and federal levels” said Igor Kochetkov, Chairman of the Russian LGBT Network.
“Therefore, the events of 29 June at Marsovo Pole, the site for Saturday’s demonstration, confirmed the apprehensions of many human rights defenders that Russia‘s newly-enacted homophobic legislation would spur a growth in violence from neo-Nazi groups. These events could lead to tragic consequences for all of society,“ he added.
All those arrested were charged with disobeying police orders and/or violation of the law on public assembly. While some were released with court summons, several were detained for many hours, including one of the gay pride’s organisers, who was held overnight till Sunday.
These latest developments come only days after the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a specific resolution on the issue of tackling discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, on 27 June 2013. The resolution particularly called for the Russian authorities to reject the introduction of the federal ban, as well as to repeal similar legislation already in place at the local and regional level.
The resolution was bolstered by the Venice Commission’s opinion on “homosexual propaganda” bans, released on 18 June 2013, in which it found legislation, either being considered or already adopted in Russia, Moldova and Ukraine, to be “incompatible with the ECHR and international human rights standards.” In 2012, the UN Human Rights Committee found the prohibition on “homosexual propaganda” in Russia‘s Ryazan Oblast violated Article 19 (2) on the right to freedom of expression as well as the Article 26 prohibition on discrimination in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
St. Petersburg is one of the more than ten cities or provinces in Russia that has already adopted prohibitions on ‘homosexual propaganda’ since 2006, introducing mostly administrative fines. However, the St. Petersburg ban has only been fully exercised once to bring charges in a case against the prominent LGBT rights campaigner, Nikolai Alekseev, as other cases have been either dropped or taken forward on other charges.
The introduction of bans on “homosexual propaganda”, both in Russia and neighbouring countries, has been heavily criticised for legitimising prejudice and hostility and fuelling hatred against LGBT persons. Two men have been murdered in Russia in separate incidences in recent months in what are believed to be prejudicially-motivated attacks, and the impunity for violence against LGBT persons, such as that endured by the participants at Saturday’s protest, remains an endemic problem.
Russia‘s new federal ban creates a new administrative offence of ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors’ and establishes a series of administrative penalties in the form of fines, suspensions for legal entities and deportations for foreign nationals. For more information, see ARTICLE 19’s legal analysis of the Russian legislation available in both English and Russian.
Over the last year, Russia has steadily introduced a series of repressive legislation eroding its citizen’s rights, namely to freedom of expression and assembly. In June 2012, President Putin signed into law amendments to the law on freedom of assembly creating excessive administrative fines of up to RUB 300,000 ($9,300) and includes vague terminology, such as ‘mass simultaneous stay or movement’, ostensibly in an attempt to incorporate new forms of protest, such as flash mobs or mass protest walks.