MOSCOW – Despite opposition from human rights activists, Russia's lower house of parliament Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would ban providing children with information on homosexuality.
The lower house, or State Duma, voted 436-0 with one abstention to pass the bill introduced by the pro-Kremlin United Russia political party banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations." The measure still needs to go through the Federation Council, or senate, and be signed by President Vladimir Putin, but is considered almost certain to become law, possibly by the end of June.
Before the vote, several hundred anti-gay and religious activists clashed with the dozens of gay activists and their supporters outside the State Duma, across from Red Square in Moscow, punching or shoving some gay activists and those that came to rally for them, and drenching others in urine. Twenty people were arrested.
Lawyer Nikolai Alekseyev, a gay rights activist, said he will file a lawsuit against State Duma deputies Vitaly Milonov and Yelena Mizulina for inspiring hatred and hostility toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
Violence against gays is common in Russia, though homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993, and several regions have already adopted anti-gay policies.
The bill approved by the State Duma on Tuesday would create a nationwide ban on informing minors about so-called nontraditional sexual relations. Violations could result in fines ranging from about $150 to $31,000, with foreigners also facing arrest and deportation.
The State Duma also passed a bill Tuesday stipulating that anyone found guilty of "insulting" the religious feelings of "believers" faces up to three years in prison. This bill is also considered nearly guaranteed to become law.
The proposed legislation is in reaction to the anti-Putin church performance of the feminist punk-collective Pussy Riot, two of whose members are now serving time in prisons in rural Russia after being convicted of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred."
Tanya Lokshina, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the bills aim to quash freedom of expression. The vague language in both bills defining "propaganda," "nontraditional sexual relations," "insult" and "feelings of believers" gives authorities almost limitless freedom in persecuting whomever they want, she said.
Laws restricting media, Internet, assembly and nongovernmental organizations have been passed in the last year.
"This is another step in the attack on the right to freely express your opinion, a right guaranteed by the constitution of the Russian Federation," Lokshina said.