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Russia's new homophobic law could send people to jail for kissing in public

An activist poses with a rainbow flag in front of the media during a protest in Dvortsovaya Square in St. Petersburg, 2 August 2015
An activist poses with a rainbow flag in front of the media during a protest in Dvortsovaya Square in St. Petersburg, 2 August 2015

REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

This statement was originally published on hrw.org on 14 January 2016.

Russia is again making media headlines for all the wrong reasons. On January 19, parliament will hold the first reading of another abusive homophobic law, which proposes jailing people for public displays of non-heterosexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill was first introduced in October 2015 by two Communist Party members, Ivan Nikitchuk and Nikolai Arefyev. It proposes fines of between four and five thousand rubles (US$53-$66) for “the public expression of non-traditional sexual relations, manifested in a public demonstration of personal perverted sexual preferences in public places.” If such public displays occur “on territories and in institutions, providing educational, cultural or youth services,” the offender could face an additional penalty of up to 15 days of administrative arrest.

It is hard to exaggerate the sinister absurdity and abusive intent of this bill – it would effectively outlaw being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) and penalize people for expressing their identity, a crucial part of anyone's existence. If passed, it will put President Vladimir Putin in an uncomfortable situation. Talking about Russia's anti-gay “propaganda” law a few weeks before Russia hosted the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, Putin insisted that Russia was a safe country for LGBT people: “We don't ban anything, we don't grab people, we don't have any [criminal or administrative] responsibility for these type of relations, unlike many other countries […].”

But the new bill proposes to do just that: send people to jail for kissing, holding hands, or simply for public behavior that authorities consider non-gender-conforming. Such legislation would further escalate the rabid homophobia and transphobia in Russia, putting LGBT Russians at further risk of violence and discrimination.

The State Duma's Legal Directorate concluded in its review that the Communists' bill was unclear and vague, but it appears that the first reading of the bill will go ahead as scheduled. If the members of parliament have any regard at all for the country's constitution and international human rights obligations, they know that they should immediately reject this bill. After all, does Russia really want to make news headlines for flouting the most basic norms of rights protection and portray itself as among the leading intolerant, homophobic, and unsafe countries in the world?

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