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Friday, 2 March 2012

Saint Petersburg passes 'anti-gay' law depite outrage


The local parliament in Russia's second city of Saint Petersburg on Wednesday passed a controversial law banning "homosexual propaganda", in defiance of protests by gay rights groups.
The law -- passed in a third and final reading with 29 lawmakers in favour and five against -- makes it illegal to promote homosexuality and paedophilia among minors aged under 18.
But rights groups have said the law is dangerous as it will be left up to the whim of the authorities to decide what constitutes propaganda, meaning gays could risk fines for demonstrations or showing intimate behaviour in public.
"This law is shameful for the Saint Petersburg parliament," said Olga Galkina of the Yabloko (Apple) liberal party, whose deputies with one exception voted against the law.
"How will citizens protect their rights? The authorities will hardly be competent to determine whether this is propaganda or lifestyle," she told AFP.
The US State Department had said earlier this month it was deeply concerned the bill would restrict freedom of assembly for gays. The Russian foreign ministry then accused Washington of interfering in the Russian legal process.
Gay campaigners said that while the bill is nominally aimed at protecting minors, its vague wording could be effectively used to suppress any rights protests that could be seen by children.
They have also been angered by the fact the law appears to equate homosexuality with paedophilia.
But the law was strongly supported by Saint Petersburg's governor Georgy Poltavchenko and its authors have also vowed to bring a similar initiative to the federal State Duma parliament for adoption nationwide.
"I have not heard a single word in this law that is not in line with Russian laws," one of the initiators of the new law, Vitaly Milonov of the ruling United Russia party, told AFP.
"Homophobia is a term thought up by people of untraditional sexual orientation about people who do not understand the way in which they live," he added.
Offenders in the city -- Russia's number one destination for foreign tourists -- risk being punished with a fine of up to 50,000 rubles ($1,700) if found guilty of promoting homosexuality.
The fines for promoting paedophilia -- whose distinction from homosexuality is not made explicitly clear in the law -- rise to one million rubles ($35,000).
According to Russian state media, among the first to be penalised could be German heavy rock group Rammstein over a recent concert in the city which legislators believe had scenes of "frank, crude pornography".
The law forbids "making propaganda through public acts for homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality and trans-genderism among minors."
According to the law, this would mean spreading information "harmful to the health and moral and spiritual development of minors."
The bill was also strongly backed by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak and former Saint Petersburg governor Valentina Matviyenko who is now speaker of Russia's upper house, the third most powerful position in the country.
It now just needs to be signed by Poltavchenko to come into law.
Saint Petersburg gay rights group Vykhod (Exit), which had campaigned against the law, called its passage "shameful for parliament, shameful for the deputies."
"We know that most of them understand perfectly well the absurdity and unfairness of this law," said Igor Kochetkov, a member of its management committee.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in Russia in 1993 but officials often make homophobic statements, most notoriously ex-Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, who consistently refused to sanction gay pride events, which he called "satanic."

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