Open letter to the Legislative Assembly of St Petersburg: Don’t limit freedom of expression

The Legislative Assembly of Saint Petersburg is about to adopt a regional law that will ban the ‘propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderism, and pedophilia to minors’. The Intergroup wrote to them today, urging them to amend the law and uphold human rights in Russia.

To: Mr Vadim Tulpanov, Chairman of the Legislative Assembly

Concerns: Law restricting freedom of expression in Saint Petersburg

Strasbourg, 17th November 2011

Dear Mr Chairman,

European Parliament logoWe understand that the Legislative Assembly of Saint Petersburg has adopted a Bill on the introduction of changes to certain legislative acts in St. Petersburg concerning administrative offences. The Bill notably relates to the ‘propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderism, and paedophilia to minors’. It was introduced by United Russia, and adopted yesterday.

As we understand it, the law will make it illegal to mention homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism in all printed, broadcast and publicly available media. Making this information available will lead to administrative penalties and fines. As the act of ‘promoting’ is not defined, the broad and imprecise language used in the adopted legislation will leave both the space and the opportunity for arbitrary interpretations of the bill, censoring any information on sexual orientation or gender identity in the public sphere.

We are deeply concerned that this legislation combines homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism into one law with paedophilia. This universally recognised misrepresentation conflates legal acts between consenting adults and crimes against minors. It misleads the public into believing that they equate each other, whilst it is clearly not the case. We also recall that in 2006, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation advised against the adoption of a federal Bill criminalising the ‘propaganda of homosexuality’, as “committing [sodomy and lesbianism] by mutual consent do not form any crime or administrative offence”.

Russia is a party to both the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These binding treaties make clear, under Articles 10 and 19 respectively, that the freedom to receive and impart information cannot be limited, except under the ambit of public order. The jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights and positions of the UN Human Rights Committee clearly state that ‘public order’ or ‘public morals’ may not be invoked to justify the silencing of minorities. The Constitutional Court of Poland also highlighted that ‘public morality’ is not the same as the moral views of the legislator.

In addition, the Council of Europe´s Committee of Ministers—including the Russian Federation—unanimously adopted a recommendation to Member States ‘on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity’. The Recommendation asks Member States to “take appropriate measures to prevent restrictions on the effective enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression […], for example on grounds of public health, public morality and public order” (§ 16), in accordance with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Furthermore, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights insisted in his June 2011 report that “any discriminatory provision criminalising the dissemination and diffusion of factual information concerning sexual orientation and gender identity should be abolished”.

As a result, we express deep concern that the law breaches several of Russia’s obligations under binding international human rights law, and that both this law and other similar laws recently enacted (in the Russian regions of Ryazan and Arkhangelsk, in Lithuania, and soon in Ukraine) will be found to breach the European Convention on Human Rights by the Strasbourg court.

We respectfully call on you to uphold Russia’s commitment to human rights for all its citizens, without discrimination. We hope you will amend the law so as to refer only to the propaganda of paedophilia, a heinous and reprehensible crime.

We hope our concerns will be received openly and considered in good faith.

On behalf of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights,

Yours sincerely,

Michael Cashman MEP, S&D

Ulrike Lunacek MEP, Greens/EFA

Sophie In’t Veld MEP, ALDE

Dennis de Jong MEP, GUE/NGL

Sirpa Pietikäinen MEP, EPP

Raül Romeva i Rueda MEP, Greens/EFA

Read more: