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March 11, 2014

Russian “Anti-Terrorism” Bill Threatens the LGBT Community

By Dawes Cooke

Russian lawmakers recently passed a first reading of an alarming three-part bill meant to aid the fight against terrorism. But it could also be an effective tool for authorities to use against LGBT organizations, activists, and political dissenters.

While the first two parts of the bill concern the black and white issues of expanding the Federal Security Service’s powers and increasing prison terms for those convicted of terror-related crimes, the third part is decidedly painted in grays. Website owners and operators would be required to archive and report all actions that occur on their websites. Compliance would be a major burden for any website, but if selectively enforced, the law could excuse most owners from the associated costs and give authorities an additional weapon to target specific websites.

Additionally, the legislation includes provisions to target online money transfers by banning anonymous foreign payments, raising scrutiny on other anonymous transactions, and limiting transactions to less than $30 per day and $400 per month. For Russian LGBT organizations, which often rely on anonymity and foreign donations to survive, these provisions would have a particularly dire impact.

With anti-LGBT pressure from both the government and society, many members of LGBT community organizations desire to keep their identities hidden from the general public. Both of these bills would undermine such anonymity. Although they don’t explicitly permit Russian security agencies to publicize what they find, this is one case where the fear of what could happen is enough to cause severe damage to the strength of these organizations. Faced with the risk of being publicly revealed as a member or supporter of the LGBT community, people are likely to cease involvement in LGBT organizations rather than risk their personal safety.

This tactic of couching discriminatory bills in the familiar and unobjectionable language of counterterrorism and national security is one the Russian government has used before. Much like the foreign agents law and anti-extremism law, these bills use vague language that grants the Russian state the means not just to combat terrorist groups but also to hamstring civil society.

Recently, a court in Nizhniy Tagil dropped charges against an LGBT advocate who had been accused of violating Russia’s anti-“propaganda” law for creating a community for gay teens on a social media website. Despite protests from the prosecution, the court ruled that the community was intended for teens who were already members of the LGBT community and so it did not count as propaganda. While the online community survived the anti-“propaganda” law, this new legislation could give anti-LGBT prosecutors the weapon they need to kill it and similar organizations.