RUSSIA URGED TO DROP ‘DANGEROUS’ HOMOPHOBIC LAW

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Human Rights Watch has called on Russia’s parliament to reject a draft law that would de-facto ban disseminating information about “non-traditional” sexuality.

The bill’s second parliamentary reading is scheduled for today, Tuesday, June 11.

The bill’s provisions would infringe on Russian citizens’ freedom of expression and information, and discriminate against Russia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, said the New York based group.

“Russia is trying very hard to make discrimination look respectable by calling it ‘tradition,’ but whatever term is used in the bill, it remains discrimination and a violation of the basic human rights of LGBT people,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT rights program director at Human Rights Watch. “To try to exclude LGBT people as ‘non-traditional’ is to try and make them less than human. It is cynical, and it is dangerous.”

The bill would ban disseminating among minors information promoting “non-traditional sexual relationships” and providing a “distorted notion of social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional sexual relationships.” The ban would apply to the press, television, radio, and the internet.

Although the bill does not define “non-traditional,” it is widely understood to mean lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships. A previous version of the draft banned propaganda promoting homosexuality.

Under the bill, which passed its first parliamentary reading in January, people found responsible for “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors” would face fines of between 4,000 and 5,000 rubles (US$123 to $155); government officials would face fines of 40,000 to 50,000 rubles ($1,235 to $1,550); and organisations, up to 1 million rubles ($31,000) or a suspension of activity for up to 90 days.

Heavier fines would be imposed for the same actions using mass media and telecommunications, including the internet. Foreigners would also be liable to deportation.

The Russian LGBT Network said that similar laws banning “homosexual propaganda” among minors have already been adopted in 10 Russian regions.

“This draft law effectively censors information about equality, tolerance, public health, or other issues affecting the LGBT community,” Reid said. “Even more alarming, the draft implies that Russia’s LGBT community is somehow unnatural and alien, making LGBT people and activists even more vulnerable to harassment and physical attacks.”

The authors of the bill have justified the draft law as necessary to protect children from information that could be harmful to their development. They also said the draft would shield the LGBT community from harassment.

The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly affirmed that measures to “protect” children from information about homosexuality do not meet the test of necessity in a democratic society and also constitute discrimination.

The claim that the draft would protect the LGBT community seems insincere and irresponsible against the backdrop of recent attacks against LGBT people and activists, Human Rights Watch said.

Three homophobic murders were reported in May. On May 9, 23-year-old Vladislav Tornovoy was killed in Volgograd, 950 kilometers south of Moscow. Media reports citing case investigators said that Tornovoy’s killers raped him with beer bottles and killed him by smashing his head. One of the two men arrested for the killing allegedly confessed that they killed Tornovoy after he revealed he was gay.

The second killing, of Oleg Serdyuk, 39, was on May 29, 2013, in Kamchatka, a region in the Russian Far East. The Kamchatka Investigative Committee released a statement, according to which Serdyuk was kicked and stabbed to death because of his alleged “non-traditional sexual orientation.” Three suspects are under arrest.

On May 30, the Dzerzhinsk City Court in Nizhny Novgorod region, 400 kilometres east of Moscow, sentenced a local man to 11 years in prison for killing another man who proposed having sex with him.

The Russian LGBT Network says that it had observed an increase in physical attacks and verbal aggression against LGBT people since the Duma (parliament) began debating the bill in January. Assailants attacked LGBT activists protesting the bill in several Russian cities. In one of the most violent incidents, a mob attacked six activists in Voronezh, south of Moscow, causing one them to lose consciousness.

The United Nations and the Council of Europe have criticised the previous versions of the draft law and called on Russia to protect LGBT people from discrimination and violence.

“The draft law would only raise the level of intolerance in Russian society, when the Russian authorities should be preventing, not facilitating it,” Reid said. “Russian authorities should be focusing on ending homophobic violence by publicly condemning brutal killings and any form of harassment of the LGBT community and activists in the strongest terms, and prosecuting those responsible.”

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