Russia Must Reject Proposed Laws that Promote Intolerance
The Russian Duma (parliament) today passed and sent to the upper chamber two deeply concerning bills, one which prohibits the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” around minors, and the other which would make it illegal to “offend” the religious beliefs of others. Each of these bills seriously threatens the fundamental rights of Russian citizens and contravenes international human rights standards. Freedom House calls on Russia’s upper chamber, the Federation Council, and President Vladimir Putin to reject both laws categorically.
The ban on “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations,” which is squarely aimed at silencing and marginalizing Russia’s LGBTI population, imposes fines of up to nearly $31,000 for those found to be in violation, and could have a devastating impact on human rights advocates, media outlets and organizations that support LGBTI rights or produce public information on LGBTI issues. Similar laws are in place in 10 regions of Russia, and if these regions are test cases for the national level implementation, it is expected that protests and demonstrations for LGBTI rights will be prevented, human rights activists and media outlets will likely be demonized and vital public debate will be negatively impacted in areas as diverse as public health, education, and children. The violent rhetoric against LGBTI by some Duma members following today’s vote also provides implicit support to wider societal expressions of violence towards LGBTI people in Russia. Outside the Duma chambers, LGBTI rights activists were attacked by nationalist groups. Three gay men have also been murdered in the past month because of their sexual orientation.
An additional bill that criminalizes offense of religious beliefs will have a chilling effect on freedom of speech, which is protected by the Russian constitution as well as numerous international treaties to which Russia is a party. There is strong reason to believe that its implementation would privilege one religion above all others given the growing rhetoric about Russia’s Orthodox Christian heritage and character. The bill, which would enter into force on July 1, 2013 if approved by the Federation Council and signed by President Putin, calls for fines of more than $15,000 and a prison term of up to three years for those who “disrespect society” or “offend the feelings of believers.”
If the Federation Council fails to reject both bills, it will represent a further step away by Russia of its observance of international human rights norms and will likely lead to persistent and potentially grave rights violations.
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