WASHINGTON — Russia will enforce its anti-LGBT propaganda law at the Sochi Winter Olympics, the country's Interior Ministry announced in a statement Monday — conflicting with a statement issued late last week by the International Olympic Committee and raising the stakes for the issue as the games draw closer.
While stating that a "nontraditional sexual orientation" alone would not subject someone to any penalties, the statement issued Monday made clear that the anti-LGBT propaganda law — which is directed at protecting minors but contains broad provisions that draw in most public pronouncements relating to LGBT issues — would remain in effect.
"The law enforcement agencies can have no qualms with people who harbor a nontraditional sexual orientation and do not commit such acts [to promote homosexuality to minors], do not conduct any kind of provocation and take part in the Olympics peacefully," according to an Interior Ministry statement issued on Monday as reported by the government-owned RIA Novosti.
"Any discussion on violating the rights of representatives of nontraditional sexual orientations, stopping them from taking part in the Olympic Games or discrimination of athletes and guests of the Olympics according to their sexual orientation is totally unfounded and contrived," according to the statement. RIA noted that the statement "warned against this approach being mixed up with discrimination against gay people."
Despite the concillatory tone of the statement, one of the primary concerns expressed regarding the law relates to its breadth.
The words of the law are focused on "promotion of non-traditional sexual relations among minors," as the Monday statement notes. The broad interpretation of "promotion" and application of the law to any public displays or any mass-media displays relating to such "promotion," however, means that almost any public or web-based pro-LGBT discussions or events could be found to violate the law. In addition to fines for anyone who violates the law, foreigners convicted of a violation can be put in jail for up to 15 days and then deported.
On Aug. 9, the IOC's president Jacques Rogge said that the IOC had received assurances in writing that the "propaganda" law will not affect the Olympics, backing up an earlier IOC statement from July 26 that "[t]he IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games."
The IOC has said its "assurances" come from Russia's deputy prime minister, Dmitry Kozak.
In the meantime, however, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said on Aug. 1 the law would continue to be enforced, noting, "No one is forbidding an athlete with non-traditional sexual orientation from coming to Sochi, but if he goes onto the street and starts propagandizing it, then of course he will be held accountable."
Monday's comment from the Interior Ministry echoes Mutko's comments, who later asked reporters to "calm down" about the law.
IOC officials beyond Rogge have begun speaking out against the law's enforcement during the games.
"They have accepted the words of the Olympic Charter and the host city contract, so either they respect it or we have to say goodbye to them," Gerhard Heiberg of Norway, who organized the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer and chairs the IOC marketing commission, told The Associated Press over the weekend.
C.K. Wu, an IOC executive board member from Taiwan, told the AP on Monday that the IOC is serious about the issue.
"The Russian authorities, they know how serious ... the IOC (is). We are not joking," Wu said when asked if the games could be taken away from Sochi if the Russian response to the questions on which Rogge has sought clarification from Russia does not satisfy the IOC.
Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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