MOSCOW –- The founder of the Moscow gay pride movement was convicted Friday of promoting homosexuality and fined $167 in the first prosecution under a controversial new St. Petersburg municipal law that human rights activists have denounced as homophobic.
Nikolai Alexeyev had been accused of spreading homosexual “propaganda” when he picketed St. Petersburg City Hall in April with a poster that read: “Homosexuality is not a perversion. Perversion is hockey on the grass and ballet on ice.”
The new law calls for fines ranging from $167 to $16,700 for “publicly spreading information capable to harm the health, moral and spiritual development of under-age persons including forming in them deformed notions of social equality of traditional and nontraditional marital relations.”
The trial was said to be the first on specific homosexuality-related charges in Russia since the Soviet era.
Alexeyev and his associates have been prevented by Moscow riot police from holding gay pride parades during the last few years.
“In a way I am glad they passed a guilty sentence and opened this Pandora's box,” Alexeyev said Friday by phone from St. Petersburg. “Now we will fight this homophobic verdict in every court and go all the way to Strasbourg if need be to try and break this caveman mentality which throws Russia back to the dark ages,” he said referring to the European Court of Human Rights in France.
Human rights activists say the law violates the Russian Constitution as well as the Geneva Convention on Human Rights.
“The law which is proclaimed to serve to protect children is in reality aimed at curbing the rights of minorities and prohibits people of nontraditional sexual orientation to express their position,” said activist Valery Borshchev, a member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, a Kremlin advisory body. “It is a homophobic law and it makes Russia look very uncivilized in the eyes of the civilized world.”
Recent polls show that 85% of Russians consider homosexuality morally unacceptable. During the Soviet era, many gays served long prison terms.
“Russia has yet a long to go way to accept homosexuality,” Boris Dubin, a senior researcher with the independent Levada polling agency said in an interview.
“The Russian leaders are floating with the current and close their eyes to the prosecution of homosexuals, because for the Kremlin a majority is always right, especially when this view is also backed by the Orthodox Church,” human rights activist Borshchev said.
Two other cities, Ryazan and Arkhangelsk, recently approved similar legislation, and two regional capitals, Novosibirsk and Samara, along with the lower house of the national parliament, are considering such laws.
Amnesty International urged Russian officials to reconsider.
“Such laws threaten freedom of expression and fuel discrimination against the city's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community,” Amnesty’s Europe and Central Asia director, John Dalhuisen, said Friday in a statement.
-- Sergei L. Loiko
Photo: Russian gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev. Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko / Associated Press