In a move fiercely criticized by rights activists, St. Petersburg's local legislature has passed a bill banning propaganda to minors about homosexuality or pedophilia.
The bill, which still must be signed by the city's governor to become law, provides for fines up to 5,000 rubles ($172) for individuals and 500,000 rubles ($17,200) for organizations.
RFE/RL correspondent Claire Bigg spoke to Yury Gavrikov, who heads the St, Petersburg-based group Ravnopravie (Equal Rights), which promotes the rights of sexual minorities.
RFE/RL: The Russian homosexual community has reacted with dismay and anger to the bill's adoption in its third reading. What has been your reaction to the news, and what upsets you most about this bill?
Yury Gavrikov: I think it's absurd to tie sexual violence against children to homosexuality and related information campaigns. Linking such issues is unacceptable as well as incompetent.
It's a shame that this is happening in St. Petersburg, a city historically seen as the cultural capital, the enlightened capital. It's complete nonsense.
RFE/RL: What do you think is the aim of this bill?
Gavrikov: Public events like the ones we have held in the past -- and plan to hold in the future -- will probably be banned on the basis of this law. I believe that this law was lobbied precisely to provide the authorities with a legal basis to ban public events organized by the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.
RFE/RL: In your opinion, is the timing of the bill's adoption -- just four days before Russia's presidential election -- just a coincidence?
Gavrikov: The draft law was initiated last year before polls to elect deputies to the State Duma and to local legislative assemblies. A similar project was conducted in the Kostroma region, and the same draft law was passed in the Arkhangelsk region.
I have no doubt that this was an information campaign ahead of the elections in order to appeal to religious and conservative voters, who as a rule don't take part in political life.
RFE/RL: What kind of activities could be outlawed as homosexual "propaganda"?
Gavrikov: That's precisely the problem. For me, the term "propaganda" has exactly the same connotation as the team "anti-Soviet propaganda." Everything that city authorities think will contradict the general stance of the [ruling United Russia] party -- since almost all city officials are members of United Russia -- will give them an opportunity to implement this law.
This term is being used precisely because it's vague, in order to bar public activities by certain groups of people. Any public activity that carries the word "gay," or "lesbians," or "bisexual" or "transgender" can be interpreted as propaganda -- be it an awareness campaign, an opinion poll, or an article posted on our website.
RFE/RL: You talk about activities organized mostly by rights groups. What about homosexuals who are not involved in campaigning activities? Under this law, for example, could a homosexual couple be fined for holding hands or kissing in public?
Gavrikov: The authorities are absolutely not interested in the private life of individual people. I don't think there will be any repressions in this respect.
But this law gives a signal to people who are eager to express their hate and their aggression. It will give such people an excuse to beat up other people just because they don't like the way they look.