ECtHR – Legislation in Russia banning the promotion of homosexuality breaches freedom of expression and is discriminatory

On 20 June 2017, the European Court of Human Rights rendered its judgment in the case Bayev and Others v. Russia (application nos. 67667/09, 44092/12 and 56717/12).  The case concerned a complaint brought by three gay rights activists about legislation in Russia banning the promotion of homosexuality, also known as the “gay propaganda law”. In a series of legislative acts – most recently in 2013 – “promoting non-traditional sexual relationships” among minors was made an offence punishable by a fine. As a protest against these laws, the three activists had staged demonstrations between 2009 and 2012. They were subsequently found guilty of administrative offences and given fines. The ECtHR held, by six votes to one, that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and a violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) in conjunction with Article 10 of the Convention. The Court found in particular that, although the laws in question aimed primarily at protecting minors, the limits of those laws had not been clearly defined and their application had been arbitrary. Moreover, 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. Indeed, by adopting such laws the authorities had reinforced stigma and prejudice and encouraged homophobia, which was incompatible with the values of a democratic society.

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