Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Russian anti-gay law comes into force

President Putin of Russia has signed into law an anti-gay bill passed by the Russian parliament

The official text of the law in Russian can be found at: http://pravo.gov.ru/opencms/opencms/laws/acts/50/4951534510601047.html

I will give a translation of the most interesting parts below:

“Article 6.21. Promotion of non-traditional sexual relations among minors”
1. Promotion of non-traditional sexual relations to minors through spreading information that forms positive attitudes to homosexuality, makes attractive non-traditional sexual relations, and presents as equal traditional and non-traditional sexual relations, or imposing information about non-traditional sexual relations that excites interest in such relations, with no elements of other criminal offense:
is punishable, if committed by individuals,  by a fine of 4,000 to 5,000 rubbles; if committed by officials -- by a fine of 40,000 to 50,000 rubbles; if committed by legal entities – by a fine of 800,000 to 1,000,000 rubbles, or by 90-day suspension of activity.

2. Acts, described in S. 1 of the present article, if committed through mass media and (or) telecommunications (including the Internet), with no elements of other criminal offense:
are punishable, if committed by individuals,  by a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 rubbles; if committed by officials -- by a fine of 100,000 to 200,000 rubbles; if committed by legal entities – 1,000,000 rubbles, or by 90-day suspension of activity.

3. Acts, described in S. 1 of the present article, if committed by a foreign citizen or stateless person, with no elements of other criminal offense:
are punishable by a fine of 4,000 to 5,000 and deportation from the Russian Federation or by 15-day arrest and deportation from the Russian Federation.

4. Acts, described in S. 1 of the present article, if committed by a foreign citizen or stateless person through mass media and (or) telecommunications (including the Internet), with no elements of other criminal offense:

are punishable by a fine of 50,000 to 10,000 and deportation from the Russian Federation or by 15-day arrest and deportation from the Russian Federation.”

So what does the law mean? 

The term "non-traditional relations" replaced the term "homosexuality" during the legislative process, presumably to address the concerns of international human rights organizations. However, the legislators' intent has remained the same; non-traditional relations are still supposed to be interpreted as homosexuality.  The federal law is only slightly "better" than many of its regional predecessors (12 of Russian regions have already criminalized the promotion of homosexuality); it is not bundled with pedophilia, as is the case with the St. Petersburg law, for example.

It remains painfully unclear what the word "promotion" means. The law seems to define promotion as spread or imposition of gay-affirmative information, but such legislative construction is still very general. How is the word information to be construed? Is it printed and electronic matter only? Can it be actual behavior such as holding hands or wearing a rainbow flag ribbon? The legislators seem to think that the scope of the law is wide enough to criminalize such behaviors in places where children can potentially be present. Because children can be potentially present in many public places, gay people in Russia are in essence banned from expressing themselves in public.


Criminal offense?

The new Russian law is framed as an amendment to the Code of Administrative Offenses. An administrative offense in Russia is not the same as a criminal offense. Administrative law in Russia is a murky, semi-civil/ semi-criminal area of law, providing for both fines and two-week imprisonment as forms of punishment. Administrative penalties can be meted out by police officers or other non-judicial government agents (although subject to court review).  Technically, the new law puts promotion of homosexuality alongside of speeding or neglecting food safety; it does not treat promotion of homosexuality as a "full" criminal offense, as the Soviet Criminal Code did with respect to sodomy.

Because jail time is one of the penalty options for the promotion of homosexuality, some human rights advocates have characterized the law as soft re-criminalization of homosexuality in Russia. This characterization seems to be correct. LGBT advocates have already been systematically detained in Russia for participating in public events promoting gay rights. The new law simply institutionalizes this long-standing practice.







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