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Russia: State Duma approves nationwide anti-gay gag law

BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — Four hundred and thirty-four to zero, with one abstention. Those are the results of the Russian State Duma's final vote today (June 11) approving a bill that bans so-called propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors and in the media, as well as targeting foreigners, Pink News reports. 

The bill, which stipulates huge fines or imprisonment if its measures are flouted, will now head to the Senate and then to President Vladimir Putin for his signature, according to the report, which says the legislation will likely proceed unobstructed through those next phases. Its approval by the Duma has occurred in the 20th anniversary year of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Russia.

As legislators prepared to vote on the measure inside, protesters for and against it demonstrated outside. While the bill's supporters called for a "purge" of homosexuals in the country, its detractors staged a kissing demonstration, a repeat of their protest held in December when the draft law was being debated, Russia Today (RT) reports. Police detained about 20 people who were reportedly involved in violent clashes.  

According to RT, the current bill, which was changed before its second reading, characterizes the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations as “spreading the information in order to form non-traditional sexual desires in children, describing such relations as attractive, promoting the distorted understanding of social equality of traditional and non-traditional relations and also unwanted solicitation of information that could provoke interest to such relations." 

Before, the proposed bill sought to ban propaganda of pedophilia and homosexuality to minors. The scale of punishment for those who violate the bill's measures varies. RT notes that individuals can be fined up to 5,000 rubles ($125-156), legal entities up to one million rubles and suspension of their activities, and internet promotion up to 100,000 rubles ($1,550-3,100). 

Foreigners found to have flouted the law face the prospect of 15 days in prison and deportation.

Gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev, who was among those who rallied against the bill outside the State Duma, told Gay Star News (GSN) that the situation "cannot get worse," and "no one really cares in the government."

GSN quotes him as saying that the law is an "incitement to genocide against LGBT people in Russia" and that he intends to file an application against Putin and the bill's authors to the International Court Tribunal at The Hague in Holland.

“Today the Russian Parliament cemented its homophobic law at the federal level," Martin KI Christensen, co-chair of International Lesbian and Gay Association-Europe, said following the vote. "Despite strong condemnation by virtually all international and European institutions and human rights organisations, Russian law makers have chosen to disregard their international human rights commitments and to ignore their own Constitution. Today the Russian Duma demonstrated that homophobia is an official state policy.

ILGA-Europe's other co-chair, Gabi Calleja, added, “We are deeply concerned by the negative impact of this law. Homophobic rhetoric which accompanied the adoption of this law at the regional and federal level for the last few years already significantly contributed toward a climate of hatred and physical violence against LGBTI people which recently resulted in a number of murders.” 

Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch (HRW), says Russia is "trying very hard to make discrimination look respectable by calling it tradition," adding that "whatever term is used in the bill, it remains discrimination and a violation of the basic human rights of LGBT people."   

On the eve of the vote, Russia's Side by Side Film Festival also faces a fine of 12,500 euros.

In a release, organizer Manny de Guerre said St Petersburg Magistrates Court Judge Oleg Camaldinov had ruled that the festival failed to register as a “foreign agent." The festival denied receiving foreign funding, and in its release indicated that the judge allegedly ignored its efforts to support their claim.

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