Russia prepares to advance 'anti-gay' bill

25th January 2013, Comments 0 comments

Russia's parliament was expected Friday to give initial backing to a bill banning homosexual "propaganda" among minors that could lead to gays being fined for demonstrating or kissing in public.

The highly contentious measure is based on local laws passed in President Vladimir Putin's native city of Saint Petersburg last year and in several other Russian regions.

The ruling United Russia party has now horrified rights activists by proposing a federal law that is now being considered by the State Duma lower house of parliament.

The Duma's family affairs committee chair Yelena Mizulina said she backed a nationwide law that "protected minors from the consequences of homosexuality."

"The unbridled propaganda of homosexuality anywhere you look effectively limits the child's right to free development," said Mizulina in televised comments to journalists ahead of the bill reading.

Homosexuality was only decriminalised after the end of the Soviet era and top officials and lawmakers continue to express homophobic views in public.

The Moscow authorities have roughly suppressed attempts to stage gay rights parades over the past seven years, which have also seen attacks by homophobic thugs. A 2010 survey by the respected Levada Centre polling agency meanwhile found that 74 percent of respondents thought homosexuality was either "immoral" or a "mental deficiency".

The bill in its current form prohibits "the propaganda of homosexual behaviour among minors". Activists worry that the vague wording of the bill could lead to gays being fined for demonstrating, kissing or even holding hands in public.

It also sets out fines for violations of up to 5,000 rubles ($165) for individuals and up to 50,000 rubles for officials.

Legal entities such as businesses or schools would be fined up to 500,000 rubles ($165,000).

Rights activists have vowed to fight the legislation while a small group of its opponents staged a "kiss-in protest" outside parliament during the debate on Friday in the third such protest this week.

Witnesses said that police detained 20 supporters and opponents of the bill as small scuffles broke outside the parliament building.

Support for the law has not been unanimous and one of Russia's most respected liberal papers came out with a withering attack on lawmakers before the vote.

"The very fact that Russia in 2013 is discussing the possibility of banning the 'propaganda of homosexuality' is in itself the harshest of blows against our own prospects," said Vedomosti business daily.

"It is hard to imagine a single issue that so clearly distinguishes between modernity and the Middle Ages."

The introduction of a local law in Saint Petersburg last year led to a boycott of the former imperial capital by international gay rights groups and a series of fines against couples who appeared in public kissing or holding hands.

The measure's opponents are particularly worried about the vague wording that never strictly defines what "propaganda of homosexuality" actually is.

The ruling party's law formally aims to shield Russians aged up to 18 from what its authors view as the spread of dangerous, often foreign ideas on freedoms by Western-backed advocates and new social media.

United Russia has enough votes in the lower house to pass any piece of legislation on its own without consulting the other parties. But Communists and other lawmakers have also expressed sympathy with the draft.

Friday's reading will be the first of three obligatory readings held in the Duma. Draft laws then move to the upper house for a single vote before reaching Putin's desk.

© 2013 AFP

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