Russia’s law on ‘non-traditional sexual relations’ unjustly criticised, insists senior official
‘It’s not about whether you belong or don’t belong’
Gay rights activists protest in Moscow against a bill banning homosexual “propaganda” among minors.
Ambassador Konstantin Dolgov is adamant that Russia’s controversial law forbidding “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors” has been unjustly criticised by human rights groups, LGBT organisations and individuals in western countries.
“Most critics have never read this law or other [Russian] laws,” he said. They had not read the law, he suggested, and they had not compared it to laws in other countries.
The ambassador, the special representative of the Russian foreign ministry for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, made a few main points: that the law only forbids propaganda directed intentionally at people under 18; that “propaganda” has been defined in the Russian context and has been backed by a supreme court decision taken in 2012; and that there is no provision for imprisonment under the law.
Much of western criticism centres on the apparently broad range of the law. References to “homosexualism” have been removed and replaced by “non-traditional sexual relations”. The absence of a definition of “propaganda” and “non-traditional” within the law has led to suggestions it is so wide-ranging that it could be used not only against LGBT people but against heterosexuals who speak about sex that is not directed at procreation.
Dolgov insisted the law was clear on these matters and in the course of an interview that lasted more than an hour it was evident that the law applied essentially to homosexuals.
When asked if any sexual act between a man and a woman could be deemed “non-traditional”, the ambassador turned to a legal adviser. The only sexual activity she mentioned was necrophilia.
Propaganda was clearly defined: “The supreme court of the Russian Federation in 2012, having considered a suit from the LGBT community against the authorities of the city of Arkhangelsk, has ruled that the protection of the rights of sexual minorities and public events in support of sexual minorities is not a propaganda of homosexuality,” Dolgov said.
The law provided for fines under the administrative code rather than imprisonment under the penal code and this was important to understand, he added.
Russian citizens who did not like the law had access to the courts and if they failed in their attempts to convince the Russian courts to overturn the law they had the right to go to the European court.
Homosexuality had been decriminalised in Russia in 1992 following the fall of the Soviet Union. There were 82 countries in the world where homosexuality was not just banned, but was criminalised. Russia was not one of those countries.
So why had the criticism been so fierce?
“We hear people say that it is hell for LGBT people in Russia. Like formerly people were saying it was hell for the Jewish people in the Soviet Union. Nobody is mentioning the Jews. They have found a new category of people in Russian Federation who are under pressure allegedly. Those are homosexuals, LGBT.
“There’s a new category because they cannot say the Jewish are still oppressed in the Russian Federation. Those who wanted to leave Russia left already many years ago and, you know, those who leave, you know, are making a lot of money and have a lot of esteem, and some people do return, by the way.
“Now they found a new target. Let us be very frank. If you watch the Russian TV on a more or less regular basis you will see a lot of prominent public figures who are openly gay and who do hold very prominent positions in the Russian establishment, by establishment I mean not only the governmental institutions.”
Gays were very prominent in Russian society and many did not criticise the law: “I happen to know people who belong to that particular minority in Russia and not only in Russia and I have heard from some of them very reasonable views. Even from the gay community.
“They also belong to the gay community, those people whom I know. But it’s not about whether you belong or don’t belong. It’s about whether you take a realistic stance or you take an unrealistic stance.”
Homosexuals made valuable contributions to Russia, Dolgov said. “They are everywhere, you know, in arts, in ballet, in Russian TV, in the financial quarters. I was surprised myself a few months ago when I learned that the Russian Federation has a wonderful LGBT sports team.”
Dolgov said support as well as criticism of the new law was coming from outside Russia. He had a list of organisations that backed the law, mentioning the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute in the US. There was a strong religious condemnation of homosexual relations. They were a huge sin, according to the Bible, and Dolgov had not heard of a single Catholic or Protestant clergyman who had spoken against that part of the Bible.
“And when the pope says that ‘who am I to judge?’, well if we read the Bible and if he is put there by God then there is some connection. I will stop here because I don’t want to judge the pope.”
RUSSIA’S GAY LAWS: WHAT THE TEXT STATES
A translation of the operative section of Russia’s law on the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors:
1.Propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors in a manner that distributes information aimed at the formation among minors of non-traditional sexual attitudes, attractiveness to non- traditional sexual relations, misperceptions of the social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional sexual relations, or imposing information about non-traditional sexual relations that evokes interest in such relations, if these actions do not constitute a criminal offence – is punishable by an administrative fine for individuals in the amount of 4,000 to 5,000 roubles; for officials – 40,000-50,000 roubles; for legal entities , from 800,000 to one million roubles, or administrative suspension of activities for the period of up to 90 days.
2. Actions that are set out in part 1 of the present article that were carried out with the use of media and/or information and telecommunication networks (including the Internet), if these actions do not constitute a criminal offence, are punishable by an administrative fine for individuals in the amount of 50,000-100,000 roubles; for officials, from 100,000-200,000 rubles; for legal entities, one million roubles or administrative suspension of activities for the period of up to 90 days.
3. Actions set out in part 1 of the present article that were committed by a foreign citizen or a stateless individual if these actions do not constitute a criminal offence, are punishable by an administrative fine in the amount of 4,000-5,000 roubles with administrative deportation from the Russian Federation or administrative arrest for a term of up to 15 days with administrative deportation from the Russian Federation.
4. Actions set out in part 1 of the present article that were committed by a foreign citizen or a stateless individual with the use of media and/or information and telecommunication networks (including the Internet), if these actions do not constitute a criminal offence, are punishable by an administrative fine in the amount of 50,000-100,000 roubles with administrative deportation from the Russian Federation or administrative arrest for a term of up to 15 days with administrative deportation from the Russian Federation”.
(The current rate of exchange is about 44 roubles to the euro.)