BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — In the wake of Russian State Duma deputies' overwhelming support for a nationwide anti-gay gag law during first reading, Germany and the European Union have signalled their objections to the measure, saying it contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Russia is a signatory.

"The implementation of this law could reinforce discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and intersex people as well as all those who support them and their choices, in particular by limiting their freedom of expression and their freedom of association and assembly," says a statement issued on behalf of Catherine Ashton, high representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and
Security Policy and vice-president of the European Commission. "The High Representative calls on the Russian Federation to uphold its national and international commitments – in particular in the framework of the Council of Europe as a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights – to protect the enjoyment of these rights by all individuals."  

Der Spiegel reports that Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, who is openly gay, also condemned the bill during a meeting with the Russian ambassador to Germany, saying it would aggravate relations between Europe and Russia. The report says Westerwelle told Vladimir Grinin that "as a friend of Russia and defender of good relations, he was personally disappointed by the development," adding that "part of democracy is the protection of minorities."

Meanwhile, Coming Out, a queer advocacy organization in St Petersburg, and have launched a photo campaign against the bill.

The bill, which is subject to two more readings, would levy fines for violations of up to 5,000 rubles ($165) for individuals and up to 50,000 rubles for officials, while businesses or schools could face fines of up to 500,000 rubles ($16,500) if they broke the law. According to Der Spiegel, if passed, the measure would make gay pride parades a prosecutable offence. "Even something as simple as waving the rainbow flag (a gay symbol) could be punishable," the report states, noting that gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev was fined last May for holding a sign that said, "Homosexuality isn't perversion" and for flouting a similar law in St Peterburg.

Venice recently joined another Italian city, Milan, in breaking cultural ties with St Petersburg over its anti-gay law.

The proposed federal bill, introduced by Novosibirsk regional deputies, mirrors a number of anti-gay gag laws that have been enacted in about 10 other cities or regions. Kaliningrad reportedly passed a similar measure Jan 24.

Bucking the national trend, the Duma of the Moscow Region rejected a similar measure meant to make "non-traditional sexual orientation propaganda to minors" illegal.


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