Three Russian LGBT advocates — Nikolai Bayev, Alexei Kiselyov and Nikolai Alexeyev — challenged the law that President Vladimir Putin signed in 2013.
The court in a 6-1 ruling said the propaganda law violates Articles 10 and 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights. They also ordered the Russian government to pay nearly 50,000 euros ($55,675) in damages to Bayev, Kiselyov and Alexeyev.
“The legal provisions in question do not serve to advance the legitimate aim of the protection of morals,” reads the ruling, which is the first time the European Court of Human Rights has ruled on the law. “Such measures are likely to be counterproductive in achieving the declared legitimate aims of the protection of health and the protection of rights of others.”
Russia, which is a member of the Council of Europe, is a signatory to the European Convention of Human rights that created the court. A law that Putin signed in 2015 allows Russia’s Constitutional Court to decide whether his country should comply with rulings from the European Court of Human Rights and other international judicial bodies.
“We welcome the first European Court of Human Rights decision on the infamous Russian ‘propaganda of homosexuality’ law,” Polina Andrianova of Coming Out, an LGBT advocacy group that is based in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday. “It is good that Russia, [which is a] member of [the] Council of Europe, is being held accountable for its blatant violations of LGBT human rights on the international arena.”
LGBT advocacy groups in Europe and the U.S. also welcomed the ruling.
“The message from Strasbourg is loud and clear: LGBTI people deserve equality, are not a threat and cannot be forced to hide away,” said ILGA-Europe Executive Director Evelyne Paradis in a statement. “These discriminatory laws perpetuate prejudice, and in fact have been harmful for the public interest, despite the law’s claim to be beneficial for public health and the rights of minors.”
Paradis added the ruling is “a vital decision, not only for LGBTI and human rights activists working in Russia.”
“It sends a key message to activists in other countries who are pushing back against similarly restrictive legislative proposals,” she said.
Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First noted to the Blade in a statement the propaganda law that Putin signed has “provided an air of legitimacy for repression of and violence against the Russian LGBT community.” He also pointed out lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and other former Soviet republics have subsequently considered similar statutes.
“We welcome the court’s decision which affirms what we always believed — that this law violates basic human rights standards,” said Gaylord.
A State Department official told the Blade on Tuesday the U.S. calls “on Russia to bring its legislation in line with its international commitments and obligations and uphold the fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association for all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.” The official did not specifically reference the European Court of Human Rights ruling in their statement.
“We remain concerned by the treatment of LGBTI persons in Russia and we fundamentally disagree with the idea that diversity poses a threat to Russian or any society,” the official told the Blade.” We believe diversity helps societies thrive.”
The Kremlin on Tuesday did not return the Blade’s request for comment. Reuters reported a Russian government spokesperson said the Kremlin will review the ruling.
Ruling issued against backdrop of anti-gay Chechnya crackdown
The court issued its ruling against the backdrop of the ongoing crackdown against gay men in Chechnya.
The Kremlin and Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is a close Putin ally, have sought to downplay or even dismiss reports that gay men have been arrested, tortured and even killed in the semi-autonomous Russian republic. Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, reported last month the Kremlin has launched an investigation into the crackdown.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley in a statement she released on April 17 said the U.S. remains “disturbed” by the arrests. The State Department has also urged the Russian government to investigate them.
President Trump has not publicly commented on the crackdown. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) last week during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that he has not raised it with Russian officials.