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Russian youth wins 'gay propaganda' case

An activist holds a placard depicting President Vladimir Putin during a demonstration against Russia's anti-gay legislation in Hong Kong, 7 February 2014
An activist holds a placard depicting President Vladimir Putin during a demonstration against Russia's anti-gay legislation in Hong Kong, 7 February 2014

PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on hrw.org on 31 October 2018.

A court in Russia has dismissed a case brought against a 16-year-old boy alleging he had broken the country's absurd and noxious "gay propaganda" law. The 2013 law effectively prohibits any positive information about "non-traditional sexual relations" from public discussion.

In August 2018, Russia's Commission on Minors and the Protection of Minors' Rights fined Maxim Neverov 50,000 rubles (US$760) for violating the "gay propaganda" law. The commission stated that Neverov had posted "some photographs of young men whose appearance (partly nude body parts) had the characteristics of propaganda of homosexual relations..." on his Vkontake - a Russian social media site - account. Neverov was the first minor to be fined under the law, and immediately filed an appeal against the ruling.

The purported rationale behind Russia's "gay propaganda" ban is that portraying same-sex relations as socially acceptable threatens the intellectual, moral, and mental well-being of children.

While supporters of the law claim it protects children, to the contrary the ban directly harms them by denying access to essential information and perpetuating stigma against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) children and family members. The law has rightly been condemned by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the European Court of Human Rights, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Council of Europe.

Neverov told reporters he was surprised by the court's judgment. He fully expected to be found guilty, as several other courts have fined activists under the "gay propaganda law" over the past five years. Earlier this year, the government used the "gay propaganda" law to target ParniPlus, a website raising awareness about the exploding HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men. Meanwhile, the head of Moscow's Federal AIDS Center has called Russia's HIV epidemic a "national catastrophe," and prevalence rates among men who have sex with men have increased dramatically in recent years - a trend some leading epidemiologists link closely with the anti-gay propaganda law's stifling of sexual health information.

Justice and reason prevailed in Neverov's case. This should become the norm, not the exception, as Russia's "gay propaganda" law continues to get exposed for what it is: a flimsy, cynical excuse to discriminate against LGBT people.

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