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Russian police push a gay-rights activist away from the scene of a gay-pride event to prevent clashes with antigay protesters in St. Petersburg in June 2013.

MOSCOW -- The Russian State Duma Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State-Building has declined to endorse a controversial draft bill that would introduce fines and arrests for people who publicly express their homosexuality.

The parliamentary committee on January 18 advised that the Duma unanimously vote against the bill in the event it reached a first reading.

The bill, initiated by lawmakers from the Communist Party and condemned as discriminatory by human rights activists, called for fines of up to 5,000 rubles (about $65) for publicly expressing "nontraditional sexual orientation."

The bill also proposed punishing those who express homosexuality at educational or cultural institutions with arrest and up to 15 days in jail.

Communist lawmaker Igor Nikitchuk, one of the bill’s authors, defended the legislation during a meeting of the committee, calling homosexuality a “contagious disease” and a “threat to society,” as other lawmakers snickered.

Lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov, a rare anti-Kremlin opposition politician in the State Duma, wrote that the recommendation to reject the bill was made for "formal reasons."

The ruling United Russia party reportedly considered the law superfluous and too close to existing legislation.

In 2013, the State Duma passed the so-called gay-propaganda law, which banned "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" among minors. The controversial law received international condemnation but enjoyed popularity in Russia and fueled homophobic attitudes.

Speaking at the committee meeting on January 18, Nikitchuk said that "there is a group of people who, in our opinion, have a damaged psyche, and as a result have deviated from their sexual orientation."

"This is an illness on a level with drugs and alcoholism and other illnesses," he added. "What’s more, this illness is contagious. For a young man with an unformed psyche, it represents a serious threat.”

A lawmaker from the Liberal Democrat Party of Russia (LDPR) could be seen in the video chiding Nikitchuk, arguing that the bill was conversely drawing attention to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues rather than covering them up, as Nikitchuk apparently intended.




Gudkov posted a video of the committee meeting on his Facebook page, calling the discussion “lively.”

After the powerful chairman of the committee, Vladimir Pligin, said he would not back the legislation, Nikitchuk warned against a vote of no support, saying: “Think about the signal that you are sending to society.”

Nikitchuk held up a folder full of what he said were statements of support for the draft bill from the public.

“Men don’t walk hand-in-hand in Russia," he declared. "Men don’t walk around with painted nails.”

Ahead of the vote, Nikitchuk told RFE/RL’s Current Time television that the legislation would “not stop people from doing what they want to do."

"Behind closed doors, under the bed, under the bedclothes, wherever, put your penis where you want," he said. "But we consider it unacceptable to demonstrate these abnormal yearnings in public.”

BAKU -- An activist from Azerbaijan's opposition Popular Front Party (AXCP) has been sentenced to seven days in prison.

A court in Baku sentenced Turan Ibrahim on January 14 after finding him guilty of using vulgar words in public, resisting police, and disrupting public order.

He was detained near his house late on January 13.

Ibrahim's relatives say he hasn’t had any conflicts with police, suggesting that his arrest and sentencing might be linked to his recent postings on Facebook criticizing Azerbaijani officials.

His arrest came as protests broke out in a handful of districts across Azerbaijan on January 13 in the latest sign of mounting frustration over joblessness, price hikes, and other economic woes in the oil-rich Caucasus country.

Ibrahim is a member of the AXCP's youth committee. His father, Mammad Ibrahim, who is an adviser to the AXCP chairman, has been in custody since late September on hooliganism charges.

Mammad Ibrahim rejects the charges as politically motivated.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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