(Tbilisi) – Russia’s State Duma unanimously endorsed new draft legislation to further restrict freedom of expression regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, Human Rights Watch said today. The proposals prohibit sharing even positive and neutral information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and publicly displaying non-heterosexual orientations, with heavy fines for non-compliance. The legislation is now pending approval by the upper house of parliament and the president.
The original “gay propaganda” ban, introduced in 2013, purported to protect children from “bullying,” broadly defined as any positive or neutral depiction or discussion of non-heterosexual relationships. The draft legislation, while retaining heavy penalties when children are involved, extends it to a total ban covering all public information or activity.
The new ban would isolate children from any information on alternative sexual orientation and gender identity, including gender transition. It introduces fines of up to the equivalent of US$6,500 for individuals and US$81,000 for legal entities, such as NGOs, for disseminating such information. The draft legislation classifies displays of non-heterosexual relationships or orientation as “information harmful to the health and development of children” and provides that websites and other online sources hosting information about lesbians can be blocked , gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT). The proposed legislation does not provide any exclusions for art, scientific studies or education. The bill also continues false and harmful messages that try to link LGBT people with pedophiles, repeatedly referring to “bulk of non-traditional sexual relations and (or) preferences, pedophilia, and sex change.”
“The ‘gay propaganda’ law of 2013 was an unrelenting example of political homophobia, and the new draft legislation amplifies that in wider and harsher ways,” said Tanya Lokshina, associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch. “Just as the original law caused significant stigma and harm to LGBT people in Russia, this updated version will have an even more disruptive effect on freedom of expression, well-being and security.”
The government has made extensive use of the 2013 “gay propaganda” law to suppress pro-LGBT events and shut down online organizations and media. The ban clearly violates the right to freedom from discrimination and to give and receive information, particularly in relation to children. This is something that has been extensively documented by Human Rights Watch. The authorities have used the legislation to harass children for participation in cultural events and to promote art that teaches tolerance and LGBT-themed posts on social media.
In 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee found the 2013 law “ambiguous, disproportionate and discriminatory” and criticized “a general restriction on the legitimate expression of sexual orientation.” The European Court of Human Rights reiterated similar conclusions, in particular that “differences based solely on considerations of sexual orientation are inadmissible under the [European Convention on Human Rights]” and that the Russian legislation was not justified indicating the inferiority of same-sex relations.
In November 2022, after examining Russia’s performance of its rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United Nations Human Rights Committee reiterated its “substantial concern about institutionalized discrimination and stigma on LGBT people”, including through that law and through that law. proposed amendments, and asked that it be withdrawn. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also urged Russian lawmakers to repeal the law rather than expand it, noting the negative impact of exclusion, stigma and discrimination on society.
The proposed new legislation goes even further to undermine Russia’s obligations under international law to protect freedom of expression and prevent discrimination.
“This law – like its predecessor – does not protect anyone, but tries to instill fear and hatred about a minority. It cuts children off from the services they need to thrive, and in some cases even survive,” Lokshina said. “The proposed legislation and the basic ban on ‘gay propaganda’ have no place in any society and female them in the trash.”