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The Anti-Elton John Propaganda Law

Relax, gays guys! Some of President’s Putin’s best friends are gay! He thinks Elton John is outstanding!
‘I’m not prejudiced in any way’, says the man who gave his Presidential assent to laws that have severely restricted the LGBTI community in Russia. ‘The law we adopted doesn’t harm anybody’ says the man who at the weekend warned gay visitors to stay away from children.

Mister President, you are giving us mixed messages!

The laws don’t add up

Putin continues the pre-Sochi glasnost PR campaign. Meanwhile, over in Voronezh, police arrested Pavel Lebedev for waving a rainbow flag as the Olympic torch relay passed through his hometown, a few hundred miles north of Sochi.

Pavel was flaunting two recently-passed laws:

  1. Proudly spreading the message that being gay is ok – a violation of the Anti-Gay Propaganda Law
  2. Protesting during the Olympics outside of a heavily-policed official protest zone – a criminal offence under the temporary demonstration ban decree.

The thing is, both of these laws violate Russia’s own Constitution:

  1. ‘Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of ideas and speech’ (Article 29)
  2. ‘Citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to assemble peacefully, without weapons, hold rallies, meetings and demonstrations, marches and pickets’ (Article 31)

They also contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and various other human rights standards that Russia claims to abide by.

By demonstrating on his own, Pavel Lebedev had at least abided by new laws cracking down on protests, decreeing that a one-person picket is the only form of protest that doesn’t need to get advance approval from authorities to go ahead.

The Anti-Elton John Propaganda Law

Imagine for a moment that last year a group of stern men in the Duma proposed, debated and assented to the Anti-Elton John Propaganda Law. Young Russians under 16 can’t listen to Elton’s music in case it influences their identity and chips away at traditional social values.

Elton John is banned from all radio and TV broadcasts. Online Elton John forums and websites giving information about Elton John are shut down. A group of people meet to listen to his music: they are detained by police simply for being Elton fans – they can’t help that they are. Each leaves their police cell with a large fine.

Elton John gigs, tribute acts, and spin-offs thereof, are banned from the capital for 100 years. Elton John becomes a non-identity without a legitimate space in society; people stop talking about him or listening to his music for fear of arrest. And generations of would-be Elton John fans grow up curious about Elton, needing information about Elton for their mental and physical health but unable to access it or tell anyone about their need.

Ok, ok, it’s not real (is one born an Elton John fan?). But switch Elton John for LGBTI rights, and you’re looking at Russia’s ridiculous but dark reality.

Criminalising LGBTI communications

‘It is necessary to protect the younger generation from the effects of homosexual propaganda’
Footnote to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, passed June 2013

Last summer the Anti-Homosexual Propaganda Bill was passed unanimously by Russia’s Parliament and signed into law by President Putin. It outlaws all ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors expressed in the dissemination of information’. In plain English, that translates as hefty fines for any person or organisation convicted of communicating LGBTI-related content – whether they are doing so in person, online, or via any form of personal or public communication in between. The law is (intentionally) vaguely worded; its terminology isn’t defined here or elsewhere in domestic laws.

It has waved a flag for a widespread crackdown on any LGBTI-related activity in civil society. Gay rights protests shut down, LGBTI  organisations closed, Pride banned in Moscow for 100 years…

'Discrimination against LGBTI people in Russia has grown rapidly, partly because of new homophobic laws but also because of hate campaigns promoted by politicians. Activists are facing harassment and attacks, which have been on the rise.

'As an LGBTI organization, anything we do can be considered propaganda: what we put on the web, the demonstrations we organize. We know that the authorities can come at any time and issue us with huge fines which we wouldn’t be able to pay.'
Polina Andrianova, Activist – Vyhod/Coming Out

‘It’s for the children’

Putin and his party will say that the law is intended to protect children and reinstate traditional values. (Article 19 and others reviewing the law have noted that ‘traditional values are often abused by States to legitimise discrimination’.) By cutting off any LGBTI communication to under-16s, Russian authorities are denying the idea that sexual orientation and gender identity is hard-coded - and violating a fistful of Articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

But this is more than paperwork and legal finger-wagging. This is denying the authenticity of LGBTI identity. This is telling young LGBTI people across Russia that they are second-class citizens. This is the state snatching health rights, personal security and ideas of equality from Russians of all ages.

Stifling freedom across Russia

This law is just one of many passed in the last couple of years designed to cut back on freedoms for Russians. And with each new piece of legislation, the space for free speech and dissent shrinks even more.
There is no skipping down yellow brick roads. For a window into the grim reality of openly gay young people in Russia, this doc from Vice is well worth a watch (though be warned – it has some pretty grizzly footage):

Elton John doesn’t return Putin’s love tonight, by the way.

Update - 5.40pm: I am delighted to see that Elton has offered to show Putin the damage he's doing to Russia's gay community in person!

'Whatever the intention of Russia’s homosexuality and paedophilia propaganda laws, I am absolutely clear from my own personal experience that it is proving deeply dangerous to the LGBT community and deeply divisive to Russian society.

'I would welcome the opportunity to introduce President Putin to some Russians who deserve to be heard, and who deserve to be treated in their own country with the same respect and warm welcome that I received on my last visit.'
Elton John, this evening

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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