For Immediate Release: July 23, 2013
New York City — The arrest of four foreign tourists accused of propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations in the Russian city of Murmansk is a sign of things to come, says Human Rights First. The four Dutch citizens are believed to be working on a documentary about gay rights, for which they solicited children’s opinions thereby triggering the law enforcement action. Upon their release, the Federal Migration Service issued a 3-year visa ban to the group, citing violations of the rules of their stay but rescinding the accusations of nontraditional sex propaganda.
“This arrest sadly comes as no surprise. Russia recently issued a one-hundred year ban on pride parades and accused a gay rights group of undermining the country’s ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity’,” said Human Rights First’s Innokenty Grekov. “Yesterday’s detention is the latest in a growing list of homophobic and dangerous actions by the Russian state. The unconstitutional assaults on the fundamental rights of gay Russians and the state-controlled media’s antigay rhetoric make it dangerous to be gay—or to be suspected or ‘accused’ of being queer—in modern Russia.”
A federal bill banning the ill-defined “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” received near-unanimous support in the Russian State Duma and was signed into law by Vladimir Putin in June 2013. Prior to the federal legislation, in multiple regions of the Russian Federation, laws prohibiting so-called “propaganda of homosexuality to minors” have been adopted by parliamentarians, instituting discriminatory restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals and organizations. In addition to the discriminatory laws, the Russian government has continued to deny freedom of assembly and association to gay rights activists, banning gay pride parades and events in multiple cities and denying registration to groups seeking to confront homophobia and promote tolerance and nondiscrimination. In October 2010, the European Court of Human Rights issued a verdict affirming that the 164 bans on gay pride marches and events between 2006 and 2008 were in violation of the constitutionally protected right to freedom of assembly. In April 2011, the ECHR decision in Alekseyev v. Russia came into force after the Russian government lost its appeal in Strasbourg. In May 2012, a district court in Moscow issued a ruling banning gay pride parades in the city until May 2112.
“Other odious and ill-defined laws show a glimpse of how the new antigay law will be abused by the Russian government. Local law enforcers have received a strong message from the federal lawmakers who have purposely used vague language to make the law expandable. The impetus to act and apply the legislation will undoubtedly lead to more erroneous arrests and prosecutions under this legislation,” said Grekov. “But foreigners should not avoid Russia—now is the time to go there and to stand in solidarity with Russia’s embattled gay communities. They need our voice, our help.”
“As this negative trend continues in Russia, the U.S. embassy—in collaboration with other foreign governments—should have a plan of action ready to be able to assist American citizens should they find themselves in similar circumstances,” concludes Grekov. “Russia’s Federal Migration Service means business when they selectively deport people.”