Catherine Ashton and MEPs receive petition on freedom of speech in Russia

Today the High Representative of the European Union Catherine Ashton and Members of the European Parliament received a petition with almost 250,000 signatures, urging them to support the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Russia.

The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Presidents of the LGBT Intergroup received a petition by with 246,245 signatures from around the world. Upon receiving it today in Strasbourg, Ulrike Lunacek and Michael Cashman MEPs said that “it was extremely important to receive this petition together with Baroness Ashton.”

Catherine Ashton, Ulrike Lunacek MEP and Michael Cashman MEP

Baroness Catherine Ashton (centre), Ulrike Lunacek MEP (left) and Michael Cashman MEP (right).© European Union

The Legislative Assembly of Saint Petersburg is currently examining a bill to outlaw any public mention of homosexuality or transgender issues. The draft law also compares homosexuality to paedophilia. Similar laws are already in place in two Russian regions, and lawmakers in Moscow and at the federal level are also said to consider restricting freedom of expression.

Michael Cashman and Ulrike Lunacek both declared: “We warmly welcome Catherine Ashton’s assurance that she will raise this issue directly with the Russian Prime Minister. The issue of equal rights for LGBT people and freedom of expression (as well as fair elections!) is very dear to all Europeans—and Russians are Europeans too.”

Andre Banks, co-founder of added: “This is a great victory: because hundreds of thousands around the world joined to raise their voice, Russian activists have been heard at the highest level of the international community. But we need to continue the fight, and stay mobilized with our friends in Russia until this homophobic bill is repealed.”

Today, MEPs in the LGBT Intergroup sent a letter to the European Court of Human Rights, asking them to examine the case ‘Bayev against Russia’ as soon as possible. This lawsuit asks the court whether banning public mentions of homosexuality is legal under the European Convention on Human Rights.

MEPs had previously addressed another letter to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Saint Petersburg, urging the Assembly not to examine the law. Tomorrow, the European Parliament will adopt a resolution on the upcoming EU-Russia Summit, which will condemn these proposed laws.

Update (14 December 2011): 24 hours after the petition was received, the European Parliament adopted a resolution in which it “condemns the recent proposals to criminalise public information about sexual orientation and gender identity in various Russian regions and at federal level”.

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