Russian newspaper may face court case for violating gay-propaganda law

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Russia's media oversight agency aims to take a newspaper to court over an article about a homosexual teacher in what appears to be the first case prepared against a publication under the country's law on gay propaganda.

In September, a youth-oriented newspaper in Khabarovsk interviewed a teacher who had been fired over his sexual orientation. Quotes in the article prompted complaints to Roskomnadzor, the agency that supervises media conformance with law.

A regional spokeswoman for the agency, Olga Shakhmatova, was quoted by the Interfax news agency on Wednesday as saying the article violated a law forbidding distribution to minors of material supporting non-traditional sexual relationships.

She said documents would be sent to court soon, but Roskomnadzor officials said Friday they did not know if the case had been filed. The law calls for fines of up to 100,000 rubles ($3,300) for individuals and 1 million rubles ($33,000) for organizations along with a possible 90-day suspension.

The law, passed this summer, has raised criticism abroad and caused concern about whether it would be applied to athletes and spectators at the Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi in February.

Homosexuality is not illegal in Russia, but animosity toward gays is high. The new law does not define either the criteria for considering an action or statement to be propaganda or what sort of distribution to minors is prohibited. Critics say the lack of clarity gives wide leeway to those opposed to homosexuals and imposes a chilling effect on media coverage of gay issues.

The newspaper, Molodoi Dalnevostochnik, quoted fired teacher Alexander Yermoshkin, as saying "My existence itself is effectively evidence of homosexuality's normalcy," according to the Russian news website

In a hearing on whether the newspaper had violated the law, Roskomnadzor official Galina Egoshina denounced that quote.

"Such a claim violates the laws of logic. By presenting it to readers who are minors, the author leads them into error about the normalcy of homosexuality. Following the logic of the author, you could recognize the existence of maniacs, serial killers, etc. as normal and even effective," Gazesta quoted Egoshina as saying.