Russia: Ban on “Gay Propaganda” Moves Towards Law

(Tbilisi) – The Russian State Duma unanimously approved a new draft law to further restrict freedom of expression in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, Human Rights Watch reported today. The proposals prohibit the sharing of positive and even neutral information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and the public display of a non-heterosexual orientation, with heavy fines for non-compliance. The bill is now awaiting approval by the upper house of parliament and the president.

The original ban on “gay propaganda,” introduced in 2013, purported to protect children from “propaganda,” broadly defined as any positive or neutral portrayal or discussion of non-heterosexual relationships. The bill, while maintaining the tougher penalties for children, expands them to a general prohibition covering any information or public activity.

The new ban would isolate children from any information about an alternative sexual orientation and gender identity, including gender reassignment. It introduces fines of up to $6,500 for individuals and $81,000 for legal entities such as NGOs for disseminating such information. The bill classifies manifestations of non-heterosexual relationships or orientation as “information harmful to the health and development of children” and provides that websites and other online sources containing information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people can be blocked. The proposed law does not provide for exemptions for the arts, scientific studies or education. The law also perpetuates fake and harmful messages that attempt to connect LGBT people with pedophiles, repeatedly referring to “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations and/or preferences, pedophilia and gender reassignment.”

“The 2013 ‘gay propaganda’ law was an uninhibited example of political homophobia, and the new bill reinforces that in a broader and harsher way,” said Tanya Lokshina, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch. “Just as the original law resulted in significant stigma and harm to LGBT people in Russia, the updated version will have an even more stifling effect on freedom of expression, well-being and security.”

The 2013 “Gay Propaganda” Act has been used extensively by the government to suppress pro-LGBT events and shut down online organizations and media outlets. The ban clearly violates the right to be free from discrimination and to give and receive information, especially with regard to children. This is something that has been extensively documented by Human Rights Watch. Authorities have used the laws to harass children for attending cultural events, as well as promoting tolerance arts and LGBT posts on social media.

In 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee deemed the 2013 law “ambiguous, disproportionate and discriminatory” and condemned the “general restriction on the legal expression of sexual orientation.” The European Court of Human Rights reiterated similar conclusions, in particular that “differences based solely on grounds of sexual orientation are inadmissible under the [European Convention on Human Rights]” and that Russian legislation declaring the inferiority of same-sex relationships was not justified.

In November 2022, after examining Russia’s compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee reiterated its “significant concern about institutionalized discrimination and stigmatization of LGBT people”, including through the said law and proposed amendments to it, and called until their repeal. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also called on Russian lawmakers to repeal the law instead of expanding it, noting the negative impact of exclusion, stigmatization and discrimination on society.

The new proposed law goes even further by undermining Russia’s international law obligations to protect freedom of expression and prevent discrimination.

“This law – like its predecessor – does not protect anyone, but is designed to incite fear and hatred against minorities. This cuts children off from the services they need to thrive and in some cases even survive,” Lokshina said. “The proposed legislation and the original ban on ‘gay propaganda’ have no place in any society and are rubbish.”