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Russia: St Petersburg urged to halt draconian anti-gay bill

Amnesty International today urged the authorities in Russia’s second largest city not to enact a homophobic bill, saying it would threaten freedom of expression and fuel discrimination against the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

The bill, which St Petersburg’s city assembly passed nearly unanimously on the first of three readings on Wednesday, effectively bans public events by LGBTI people and organisations under the pretext of protecting minors.

If enacted, the law would allow the authorities to impose fines of up to the equivalent of £1,000 for “public actions aimed at propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors.”

Local LGBTI rights activists have blasted the law, saying it will provide legal cover for banning any of their actions, including the distribution of information leaflets or even actions against homophobia.

Under the measure, freedom of assembly and expression for LGBTI groups would be prohibited anywhere Children's rights might be present. This would rule out nearly all public events carried out by or on behalf of LGBTI people and organisations. The publication of anything relating to LGBTI rights or providing assistance or advice - including informative leaflets as well as publications in the media and on the internet - would also be severely curtailed.

Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Director Nicola Duckworth said:

“This bill is a thinly-veiled attempt to legalise discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in Russia’s second-biggest city.

“The notion that LGBTI rights activists are somehow converting Russia’s youth through ‘propaganda’ would be laughable if the potential effects of this new law weren’t so dangerous and wide-reaching.

“Legislation like that proposed in St Petersburg will only further marginalise LGBTI people, and must be stopped.

“Instead of seeking to restrict freedom of expression and assembly for LGBTI people, the Russian authorities should be doing more to safeguard their rights and protect them from discrimination and violence.”

Other Russian cities like Moscow have planned legislation to ban “propaganda for homosexuality”, while Arkhangelsk and the region of Riazan have already introduced such legislation. Although consensual same-sex activity was decriminalised in Russia in 1993, LGBTI people still face widespread discrimination and violence.

LGBTI activists’ attempts to organise Pride marches, cultural festivals and other events in major cities, including St Petersburg, have frequently been met with official red tape and violence from anti-gay groups, among them people associating themselves with the Orthodox Church. Violent attacks against LGBTI activists often go unpunished.

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