The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Russia’s law banning the dissemination of gay "propaganda" to minors violates the right to freedom of expression, is discriminatory against gay people, and encourages homophobia.
The Strasbourg-based court said on June 20 that fines imposed on three gay-rights activists violated two articles on freedom of expression and prohibition of discrimination of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The activists -- -- Nikolai Bayev, Aleksei Aleksandrovich Kiselev, and Nikolai Alekseyev -- had been found guilty of holding separate protests against the law between 2009 and 2012 in front of a secondary school in the city of Ryazan, a children's library in Archangel, and an administrative building in St. Petersburg.
Russia said it would appeal the ruling.
Following legislation in several Russian regions, a federal law prohibiting the dissemination of "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships" among minors entered into force in June 2013.
Under the law, a private person found guilty of conducting such activities faces fines of up to 5,000 rubles ($85), while officials could pay 10 times more.
The law has been condemned as a ban on any public discussions of homosexuality, while authorities say it is in the interests of minors.
"The very purpose of the laws and the way they were formulated and applied in the applicants' case had been discriminatory and, overall, served no legitimate public interest," the court said in a statement.
The Strasbourg judges rejected the Russian officials’ claim that the law is needed to protect morality, saying the government "failed to demonstrate how freedom of expression on LGBT issues would devalue or otherwise adversely affect actual and existing 'traditional families' or would compromise their future."
The judges also said that by adopting the law, the Russian authorities "reinforced stigma and prejudice and encouraged homophobia," which they said is "incompatible with the notions of equality, pluralism, and tolerance inherent in a democratic society."
They ordered Russia to pay each of the activists damages of between 8,000 euros ($8,900) and 20,000 euros ($22,300).
In a statement, the Russian Justice Ministry expressed its "disagreement" with the conclusions of the ECHR, adding that it will prepare an appeal within three months.
Alekseyev, one of the three activists, described the court ruling as a "historic victory."
"The way this law has been applied shows that it is not aimed at protecting minors, but at removing LGBT people, an enormous social group, from the public space, and at stripping them of their right to speak out or fight for their rights," said Alekseyev, founder of the Moscow-based gay-rights group GayRussia.ru.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, but antigay prejudice is widespread.
Denis Krivosheyev, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, also welcomed the ruling and urged Russia to "repeal its homophobic legislation, end discriminatory practices, and fully respect every person's right to freedom of expression."
Krivosheyev said in a statement that the Russian authorities should also "effectively investigate all instances of homophobic violence," including the reports of a "terrifying campaign of mass abduction and torture of men perceived to be gay in Chechnya."
After an initial report in the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta on April 1 that said gay men in Chechnya were being rounded up, tortured, and killed, several outlets including RFE/RL have spoken to Chechens who have fled the alleged abuse.
In a report on May 26, Human Rights Watch said it had confirmed that police in Russia's southern region tortured and humiliated dozens of gay or bisexual men during the spring of 2017 in "an apparent effort to purge them from Chechen society."
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and the BBC