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September 04, 2013

Putin Interview Paints Distorted Picture of Russia’s LGBT Bias

St. Petersburg, Russia – In an extensive September 4th interview with the Associated Press and Channel 1 Russia, President Vladimir Putin denied that LGBT persons face discrimination in Russia and stated that the nation’s controversial new anti-”propaganda” law brings “no negative consequences, particularly as we don’t have laws targeting people of nontraditional sexual orientation.” Putin also noted that people with nontraditional sexual orientation “have full and equal rights of a Russian citizen.” Human Rights First notes these statements are out of step with the reality on the ground in Russia, host to this week’s G20 summit.

“President Putin rightly notes that since the decriminalization of same-sex relations in modern Russia, many gay Russians enjoyed the same rights and economic opportunities as everybody else,” said Human Rights First’s Innokenty Grekov, who is in St. Petersburg this week and recently authored the new Human Rights First report Convenient Targets: The Anti-”Propaganda” Law & the Threat to LGBT Rights in Russia that, among other recommendations, urges direct U.S. State Department action to seek clarification on anti-“propaganda” laws and calls on President Obama to meet with human rights activists at the G-20 Summit. “What Putin didn’t say is that Russia’s constitutional protections from discrimination for all have not translated in the day to day lives of Russia’s LGBT community, which continues to face intolerance and whose freedoms can be undermined through the recently adopted ‘propaganda’ law.”

The report also analyzes various aspects of the anti-“propaganda” law and its regional precursors, pointing out both the extreme ambiguity of these laws and the history of their use. They have historically been and remain an easy go-to tool to limit the right to free expression and deny freedom of assembly and association for LGBT Russians.

“The reports of rising violence motivated by bias against sexual orientation and gender identity in Russia are extremely worrisome,” Grekov observed. “President Putin is correct to point out that reported cases of similar attacks in Western countries are considerably higher. But that’s not hard to believe when Russian law enforcement does not track incidents in which a victim is targeted due to his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. Worse still, no court in Russia will prosecute such attacks under Russia’s hate crime provisions. Meanwhile the government’s official rhetoric shows a clear preference to limit the public visibility of Russia’s LGBT persons.”

Human Rights First’s report cites examples in which Russian courts have habitually denied LGBT persons the right to free assembly and association by banning gay pride events and parades and denying registration to LGBT organizations. One such court decision argued that propaganda of equality threatened Russia’s ‘”territorial integrity and sovereignty’ and was dangerous because LGBT persons would incite social hatred toward themselves – by being more open about their identities.

“In prior Russian attempts to ban ‘’homosexual propaganda’ in 2003, 2004, and 2006, the government argued that ‘propaganda’’ bills were too broad and undermined Russia’s Constitution and international obligations,” concluded Grekov. “The 2013 federal anti-“propaganda” law represents a clear reversal of this position. Unless President Putin denounces or Russia’s Supreme Court strikes down the ‘propaganda’ law, it will likely be discriminatorily applied to detain and fine LGBT activists and deny permission to hold public events and demonstrations to LGBT communities. Therefore, Putin’s talk of equal rights for LGBT people in Russia is disingenuous.”

For more information or to speak with Grekov, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder at bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.