Russia: PEN International Joins Protests at Proposed St Petersburg Legislation Threatening Freedom of Expression on Gay Rights


By Sara Whyatt, Programme Director, Writers in Prison Committee

Local and international protests have led to the reconsideration of plans by the St Petersburg legislature to introduce a bill that, if passed, would have criminalised discussion on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) issues.

On 16 November 2011, the St Petersburg city legislature voted almost unanimously (27 for to one against) on the act that would bring fines of 1,000 roubles ($30) for an individual and up to 50,000 roubles ($1,600) for an organisation for “public actions aimed at propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors.” The bill is ostensibly aimed at child protection, but the LGBT community protests that it is being lumped together with paedophiles and criminality. An Amnesty International press statement describes the proposed law as a “thinly veiled attempt to legalize discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in Russia’s second-biggest city”. Information leaflets, advice, all writing and literature – including anything posted online – could also face prohibition under this new law if it were to be passed.

There have been numerous demonstrations held in St Petersburg and international activism, including a petition that has gained 215,000 signatures to date with statements of concern made by governments including the US State Senate, United Kingdom Foreign Office among others.

Vilatly Milonov, a member of the United Russia party who proposed the bill, has told media that its progress has been postponed as “We have decided to double-check all legal definitions related to this bill.” There is also disagreement on the levels of fines.

The Russian PEN Centre is among the national groups opposing the new legislation, and is backing a statement by the St Petersburg Human Rights Council, made up of a number of groups who monitor human rights, addressed to the Russian and St Petersburg Commissioners for Human Rights. The statement raises a number of concerns, specifically that “that the adoption of this law would be contrary to a number of international human rights instruments ratified by the Russian Federation” The statement can be found, in Russian, on www.penrussia.org.

Homosexuality was legalised in Russia in 1993 but attitudes towards LGBT remain hostile. Although these attitudes are changing progress is slow and gay people continue suffer physical and verbal attacks.

PEN International will continue to monitor the progress of the proposed bill, calling for any aspects that curtail the internationally recognised right to freedom of expression to be removed.