BY NATASHA BARSOTTI – A St Petersburg court today
convicted Russia's most prominent gay rights activist for flouting the city's
new "gay propanganda" law.
Nikolai Alexeyev, who became the first person to be found
guilty of breaching the city's law, told reporters he was fined 5,000 rubles
($170) for picketing the city hall with a poster that read, "Homosexuality
is not a perversion."
Should a higher court uphold the ruling, Alexeyev says, he
intends to appeal his conviction at the Russian Constitutional Court and, if
necessary, move on to the European Court of Human Rights for redress.
Alexeyev has maintained that the various "gay
propaganda" laws that are now in place in several Russian cities are vague
and unenforceable. So far, Ryazan, Arkhangelsk, Kostroma and St Petersburg have
passed legislation forbidding promotion of gay propaganda among minors.
Novosibirsk, Russia's third-largest city, is the latest jurisdiction to
entertain such legislation, which regional deputy Alexander Ilyushchenko said
is meant to prevent people having to explain that homosexuality exists.
"There is no same application of these laws
everywhere," Alexeyev told Xtra on May 2. "It all started with Ryazan
in 2006, and our [picketing] actions in 2009 against the Ryazan laws — which at
that time no one really cared about or talked about." Alexeyev says the
jurisprudence in Ryazan is that they consider the pickets in front of the
library there as a violation of the law, and as propaganda of homosexuality.
because of that that [the Ryazan] case is now pending at the European Court of
Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Committee," he says. Alexeyev, who is
a lawyer, says the UN Committee is scheduled to hear the Ryazan case in July.
"That will be the first international legal response to this legislation
in Russia. It will become a basis for any further decisions of the European Court or in Russia. That will be a very important legal step," he adds. "If
we didn't do this in 2009, we would be nowhere now challenging these laws on
the international level."
After Arkhangelsk passed their own version of the
propaganda law in 2011, there were further picketing actions in front of
that city's state institutions, the children's library and other public events. All the public events were banned
under the law, and three activists, including Alexeyev, were charged with
breaching the law in January. "The court confirmed that it was propaganda,
and the appeal court also confirmed the decision, so this case of Arkhangelsk
is now ready for the European Court [of Human Rights], where we will apply in
the next couple of weeks," he says.
Before Alexeyev's conviction in St Petersburg, that
city's authorities selectively detained about 17 queer activists and their
allies for unfurling rainbow flags, banners and wearing rainbow-coloured items at
a May 1 civil rights march, saying those items were not authorized. Released after seven hours, the
activists were not charged for promoting gay propaganda to minors but were
charged under two other administrative provisions: for disobeying police orders
and breaching the rules of the march.