Enforcing tradition


In the dubious spirit of protecting “tradition” – like “patriotism”, often the refuge of the scoundrel – Russia’s lower house, the Duma, on Tuesday unanimously backed laws that threaten up to three years jail for blasphemy and ban the promotion of homosexuality in the press, TV, radio and the Internet.

The legislation , still to go through the upper house, reflects the continuing rise in influence of the Orthodox Church and President Vladimir Putin’s third-term championing of a new breed of conservatism and nationalism to counter falling ratings. But although the anti-gay law has the backing of some 88 per cent of the population, according to a new poll, and gaybashing attacks are on the rise, both measures will almost certainly fall foul of the free speech provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights to which Rusia, notionally at least, adheres. A court challenge to Strasbourg, however, is likely to take years.

The Bills prohibit the dissemination of information about “non-traditional” sexuality and promotion of “distorted notions of social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional sexual relationships” with fines for offenders. The blasphemy law sweepingly criminalises “offending the feelings of religious believers”. Why the latter was thought necessary is unclear – last August prosecutors had no difficulty securing convictions and jail term for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” against members of punk band Pussy Riot after a protest in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour cathedral.

As the Duma debated the Bills, gay activists who had taken part in a “kissing protest” outside were harassed and pelted with eggs by anti-gay protesters. Then 20 of them were arrested. And, no irony intended, Russia, flaunting its free speech credentials, on Tuesday also offered sanctuary to US whistleblower Edward Snowden. With some justice, however, human rights groups are describing the country’s current rights regime as its most repressive since the days of the Soviet Union.

Uncle Joe would be proud.