Russia’s draconian ban on “gay propaganda” recently ensnared its first foreigners with the arrest of four Dutch nationals accused of asking Russian youth about their views on gay rights.
The Dutch tourists—which included Kris van der Veen, who is reportedly making a documentary about human rights in Russia—allegedly spread “propaganda of nontraditional relationships among the under-aged.” The four were apparently talking to teens at a camp in the northern city of Murmansk when they were arrested Sunday for violating the terms of their work in the country, local officials said, according to Russian media.
The tourists spent a night in jail but were sent home Monday after their court hearing was postponed, according to local media reports. They could have faced up to two weeks in prison.
The arrests came just weeks after Russia passed the controversial anti-gay law in June, a forceful attempt to prevent discourse about homosexuality and gay rights. Russia already faces a barrage of criticism over its backsliding on free speech and human rights in the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
The detainments could serve to make potential visitors to the country very nervous, said Boris Dittrich, an advocacy director with Human Rights Watch.
“Potential tourists who publicly support homosexuality when minors are involved—this doesn’t necessarily have to be in words, it could be by wearing a rainbow flag T-shirt—run the risk of being arrested, fined and deported from Russia,” Dittrich said.
Russia will be squarely in the world’s spotlight during the 2014 Olympics, spending a record-breaking $50 billion on hotels, athletics centers and other infrastructure. The government has said it wants to make Sochi a major winter resort destination following the event.
At least one gay rights group, the U.S.-based, Russian-language Rusa LGBT, has called for a boycott of the games.
For now, tourists hoping to discuss political movements in Russia should think twice, according to Dittrich. ”The ‘propaganda’ law violates basic human rights, like the freedom of expression, assembly and association,” he said.
An International Olympic Committee spokesman said the group is keeping an eye on fallout from the anti-gay propaganda legislation.
“It remains to seen whether and how it will be implemented, particularly in regards to the games in Sochi,” said Andrew Mitchell, the IOC’s media relations manager, who declined to comment specifically on the case of the four Dutch tourists.
“As a sporting organization, what we can do is continue to work to ensure that the games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media,” Mitchell said. “To that end, the 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.”
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