Saint Petersburg governor signs 'anti-gay' law
The governor of Russia's second city Saint Petersburg signed a new law against "homosexual propaganda", in defiance of protests that it discriminates against gays, the city said Sunday.
Saint Petersburg governor Georgy Poltavchenko signed the law -- which promises fines for anyone found to have spread gay propaganda among minors -- after it was adopted by the local legislature.
He signed the law on March 7, the city hall said in a statement. It is a regional law that applies only to Saint Petersburg and will come into force 10 days after official publication.
Human rights groups had called on Poltavchenko to veto the law on the grounds that it appears to equate homosexuality with paedophilia and risks being used arbitrarily by the authorities to crack down on gays.
Any person found "making public actions among minors for the propaganda of homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality or transgenderism" will be subject to a fine of 5,000 rubles ($170), rising to 500,000 rubles ($17,000) for organisations.
Another article states that people "making public actions for the propaganda of paedophilia" will be fined 5,000 rubles, a sum that rises to 1 million rubles ($34,000) for organisations.
"We had no doubt that this would be signed by the Kremlin-nominated governor but we will fight against this discrimination," said Maria Efremenkova, a leading gay rights activist who has organised Gay Pride rallies in the city.
She said that once the law comes into force this month activists would hold pickets near schools brandishing signs like "homosexuality is also natural" to test the law.
"This is so that legal proceedings are launched against us and we can then fight against the law in court," she explained.
It remains unclear how the authorities will implement the law in what is Russia's number one destination for foreign tourists and its vagueness has caused international concern.
"The bill's language is so vague and broad that it could lead to a ban on displaying a rainbow flag or wearing a T-shirt with a gay-friendly logo or even on holding LGBT-themed rallies in the city," Human Rights Watch said in a statement earlier this month.
"The bill is setting a dangerous precedent by maliciously linking paedophilia with homosexuality," it added.
The controversy has also caused diplomatic tensions: the US State Department in February said 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.
Similar laws have also been approved in the regions of Ryazan and Kostroma outside Moscow and Arkhangelsk in the Far North. The authors of the Saint Petersburg law have vowed to bring a similar initiative to the federal State Duma parliament for adoption nationwide.
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."
© 2012 AFP