Russia’s lower house of Parliament this week passed two bills condemned by Amnesty International for stifling fundamental human rights, including the right to free expression.
First off, the State Duma passed a bill outlawing actions perceived as “offending religious feelings.” That’s right: if your behavior offends a person of faith, you could do jail time:
The bill stipulated that “public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed with the goal of offending religious feelings of the faithful” would be punishable with jail terms of up to three years in prison as well as fines of up to AU$9700. … Public desecration of religious objects or books are also punishable by fines of up to AU$6500.
The government won’t hesitate to admit what sparked such a specific bill: the feminist performance group Pussy Riot‘s infamous public performances from last year, which openly denounced the Russian government and landed the band members in jail. Apparently Russia’s still mad about that one:
“People who practice traditional forms of religion constantly face threats of various kinds. This includes the stunts by the Pussy Riot group, this includes the cemetery vandalism, and this also includes attempts on lives of spiritual leaders,” Mikhail Markelov, deputy head of the Lower House Committee for Religious Organizations, earlier told reporters.
Speaking of people who face various threats: it’s as awful a time as ever to be gay in Russia.
The State Duma also voted 436-0 (!!!) to pass a bill that bans any kind of “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” from gay pride parades to teaching children about homosexuality. Any individual found guilty is subject to a fine up to 5,000 rubles ($156), while companies and media organizations could be fined as much as 1,000,000 rubles ($31,000). Foreign citizens who break the law can be deported or jailed.
While all this was going on, riot police detained more than two dozen protesters who tried to hold a “kissing rally” outside the government building in Moscow. Those arrested were primarily gay rights activists, even though hundreds of Orthodox Christian activists showed up to physically assault and verbally harass the demonstrators.
As always, Russian officials deny any hateful intent, but instead claim the bills are an attempt to preserve “traditional Russian values” rather than fall prey to “Western liberalism.” Whatever the reason for this legislation, Russia has a well-documented history of homophobic laws and cultural practices:
Russian officials have rejected the criticism. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov defended the bill in February, saying that Russia doesn’t have any international or European commitment to “allow the propaganda of homosexuality.”
An executive with a Russian government-run television network said in a nationally televised talk show that gays should be prohibited from donating blood, sperm or organs for transplants, and after their deaths their hearts should be burned or buried.
No hateful intent at all. Clearly.
The bills will move on to Russia’s appointed upper house and then to President Vladimir Putin for his signature, and it’s very likely they’ll both pass. I’m scared for the activists in Russia who will keep protesting publicly even as things escalate into violence, but someone has to keep fighting the good fight.