Russia sends mixed signals over Olympics anti-gay law


A Russian gay and LGBT rights activist shows sign reading 'Love is stronger than homophobia' from inside of a Russian riot police van during unauthorized gay rights activists rally in cental Moscow on May 25, 2013.


Kirill Kudryavtsev

A senior Russian official suggested on Friday that Russia will not enforce its controversial new anti-gay law against Olympic athletes, the latest in a dizzying array of developments surrounding the Sochi Winter Games and the potential prosecution of foreign athletes for their sexual orientation.

Igor Ananskikh, the chief of Russia’s parliamentary committee on physical culture, sports and youth affairs, on Friday told news agency Interfax that the law banning so-called homosexual propaganda would “not affect” participants.

“Our task is to be as correct and tolerant as possible,” he said. “Therefore the decision was made not to raise this issue during the Olympics.”

But Ananskikh’s comments arrive a day after Russia’s sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, announced that Russia would indeed enforce the law, which purports to protect minors from the influence of “nontraditional sexual relationships.”

“An athlete of nontraditional sexual orientation isn't banned from coming to Sochi,” he told state news agency RIA Novosti. “But if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable.”

More from GlobalPost: Russian vodka boycott to protest anti-gay law spreads

Russia’s ban on gay “propaganda” has caused a stir both domestically and in many Western countries, where activists have spoken out against what they say is the government’s repressive treatment of sexual minorities. The vaguely-defined law is aimed at punishing the dissemination of information that equates same-sex relationships with heterosexual ones.

The International Olympic Committee said last week that it been assured by high-ranking Russian officials that the new law, which sets fines of up to $3,000 and potential deportation for foreign citizens, would not affect the Sochi Games.

There have been signs, however, that Russia is already seeking to use the legislation against foreigners.

Last month, a team of Dutch filmmakers was detained in the northern city of Murmansk while making a documentary about the gay community there. They were not charged, however.

The law came into effect in June after being approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Rights activists and bar-owners in several Western countries have embarked on a boycott of Russian vodka in protest against the new measures.