Belarus's prosecutor-general has dismissed a call for criminal charges against a cabinet minister who used a derogatory prison epithet for homosexuals on national TV.
Speaking on host Marat Markov's Nothing Personal program on the ONT station last month, Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich referred to gay people as "dyryavyye," a word best translated as "holers" or "those with a hole."
The term is prison slang for rape targets at the bottom of inmate society.
"There exists a certain category of citizens...I like to call 'holers,'" he said in the December 18 broadcast. "Some of them have made holes in places not designed by nature [and]...some of them are using these holes for the wrong purpose."
The Vyasna (Spring) Human Rights Center in Minsk responded with a petition to the Belarusian prosecutor-general and the Investigative Committee requesting a criminal investigation of Shunevich for trying to incite hatred against the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community.
If my description of them catches on and gets popular, the only thing I can say is that I hit the bull's-eye with it."-- Belarusian Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich
In the petition, Vyasna Chairman Ales Byalyatksi and Deputy Chairman Valyantsin Stefanovich allege the public insult is punishable under Article 130 of the Criminal Code.
"I believe that these statements are highly offensive and promote hatred and discrimination in Belarusian society toward citizens based on their sexual orientation, which contributes to their further stigmatization [in society]," Stefanovich wrote in a statement to the Investigative Committee.
He added that Shunevich's statements bespeak a low standard of legal culture within the Interior Ministry and a failure to understand both the principles the ministry should uphold and the international human rights norms to which Belarus is a signatory.
Vyasna later said the head of the department in the Prosecutor-General's Office overseeing issues of rights and freedoms, Marina Popova, had dismissed its petition for an investigation.
"This statement [by Shunevich] does not use words, phrases, or expressions the use of which would help ascertain the presence in their structure of an offense or a criminal offense," the group quoted Popova as saying.
She reportedly added that Shunevich's comments were his "personal opinion."
Shunevich has said the Interior Ministry "protects the institutions of morality" in Belarus, which "allows me to comment on certain situations that happen in our country."
He suggested that "holers" have just "one objective," which is to capture "the spotlight of the mass media or that of the Internet to gain a certain amount of 'likes,' or 'dog yelps,' as I like to call them, and obviously to get those grants from their overseas curators so that they can satisfy their sick egos."
Shunevich, who has been interior minister since 2012, expressed pride in his use of the slur.
"If my description of them catches on and gets popular, the only thing I can say is that I hit the bull's-eye with it," he said.
"You most certainly did," said host Markov, who before becoming head of ONT in March 2017 served as the deputy head of the Ideological Department in President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's administration.
Stefanovich wrote in his letter that Shunevich's comments are an incitement to "hostility against people on the discriminatory grounds of sexual orientation."
Shunevich has generated controversy before.
In May, he appeared at Victory Day celebrations in Minsk wearing the uniform of an officer from the notorious Soviet NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB.
He told RFE/RL in 2015, the first time he wore an NKVD uniform in public, that he did it to show his great respect for the NKVD officers who fought to "liberate the Soviet Union from the Nazis."
Later that month, Shunevich backed "homophobic statements" that appeared on the Interior Ministry's website criticizing the British Embassy in Minsk for flying an LGBT rainbow flag on May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia.
He said the "only way" is relationships between "a man and a woman, and not the other way," declaring same-sex relationships and the LGBT community "fake."
That resulted in thousands of people signing a petition calling for Shunevich's dismissal.
His antigay statements have prompted LGBT activists to display portraits of him at gay-pride marches around the world, spurring lots of selfies.
Vyasna, which was created in 1996 but whose official registration was canceled by the Belarusian Supreme Court in 2003, said it has also sent a letter of complaint about Shunevich's antigay remarks to Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN Human Rights Council's independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Belarus, a country of 10 million people, placed 42nd out of 49 European countries for LGBT friendliness in a survey by ILGA-Europe.