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MPs should reject bills that ban homosexual 'propaganda'

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 2 July 2012 - ARTICLE 19 urges Ukrainian MPs to reject two bills that would significantly restrict the right to freedom of expression for members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community and the right to information on sexuality.

Bill 8711 and Bill 10290 harshly discriminate against members of the LGBT community by criminalising so-called homosexual 'propaganda', with the threat of up to five years imprisonment. The bills are currently being fast-tracked without due process and could be in place as soon as tomorrow, 3 July 2012. Ukrainian LGBT and human rights organizations have expressed their concern and anxiety about the high level of homophobia among members of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament), as well as rising hatred towards the LGBT community and the absence of anti-discriminatory legislation.

The government is seeking to amend existing laws on the protection of public morality, media and publishing, and the criminal code. If adopted, the bills would severely impact on the LGBT community, banning the publication and distribution of the majority of LGBT information. The ambiguous use of the word 'propaganda' would likely lead to unjust and ad-hoc prosecutions and an increase in homophobic attacks.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in Ukraine in 1991. However, according to Fulcrum, an Ukrainain LGBT organisation, there is a rapid growth of homophobia in society, strengthened by the public hate speech of political and religious leaders, inciting violence against homosexual people. On 20 May, four masked men violently attacked Svyatoslav Sheremet in Kyiv, one of the organisers of a gay pride march planned for the same day. The march had been cancelled because of fears over participants' safety. Sheremet is an active gay rights activist and the leader of the Ukrainian Gay Forum.

The bills would prohibit media articles about homosexuality and ban LGBT and human rights organisations from raising awareness of LGBT rights. Cultural events such as film festivals, book fairs, educational lessons on sexual and reproductive health, and commercial advertising on TV would also be subject to the ban. Such activities would become criminal and therefore punishable by sanctions ranging from fines up to USD 589 or imprisonment for up to five years.

Bill 8711, introduced in 2011, would:

1. Ban any production or publication of products promoting homosexuality
2. Ban the use of media, TV or radio broadcasting for homosexuality promotion
3. Ban printing or distribution publications promoting pornography, cult of violence and cruelty or homosexuality
4. Ban the import, production or distribution of creative writings, cinematography or video materials promoting homosexuality.

Bill 10290, introduced in February 2012, would:

1. Ban holding meetings, parades, actions, pickets, demonstrations and other mass gatherings, which are directed to and/or are expressed in intentional dissemination of any positive information about homosexuality, which may negatively influence physical and mental health, moral and spiritual growth of children;
2. Ban holding educational lessons, thematic conversations, interactive games, optional classes and other educational events on homosexuality;
3. Ban messages, articles or appeals spreading in any form the call for homosexual lifestyle in the mass media, which may negatively influence physical and mental health, moral and spiritual growth of children;
4. Ban spreading information in any form about homosexuality or of the call for homosexual lifestyle in institutions of general education, which may negatively influence physical and mental health, moral and spiritual growth of children.

The bills have been approved by the relevant Parliamentary Committees and are now being fast-tracked through the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament). They have so far received cross-party support, making their adoption a likely prospect in the upcoming vote, expected tomorrow, 3 July.

The European Parliament has expressed concern regarding these and similar proposals being introduced across Europe, highlighting they are inconsistent with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which precludes discriminatory laws and practices based on sexual orientation.

Ukraine is following in the footsteps of several other countries including Russia, where a ban on homosexual 'propaganda' was adopted in St. Petersburg in March 2012, receiving considerable international attention. A number of other cities and towns across Russia have passed similar bans, including Arkhangelsk (September 2011), Kostroma (February 2012) and Novosibirsk (June 2012). In Moldova, the second largest city Bălți prohibited 'agressive propaganda of a non-traditional sexual orientation in demonstations in February 2012. Since then a number of Moldovan cities (Cahul, Ceadir Lunga,Drochia and Soroca) as well as several the districts (Anenii Noi and Basarabeasca) have followed suit. Additionally, similar proposals have been introduced in Lithuania and Hungary. Legislators have attempted to justify such restrains to freedom of expression with reference to protecting the morals of minors.

This attempt to suppress information regarding the LGBT community can be seen within a wider context of the Ukrainian government's attempts to control what is reported in the country's media. In April, ARTICLE 19 took part in a mission to Ukraine along with the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), Freedom House, Open Society Foundations (OSF), and the Ukraine Association of Press Publishers. Today they released a joint report on the country's press freedom situation - “Make freedom of expression a reality, Mr President".

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