August 23, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Putin bans demonstrations, public gatherings around Olympics

Vladimir Putin, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo public domain)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday issued a decree that bans demonstrations and other gatherings in the city where the 2014 Winter Olympics will take place.

The official newspaper Rossisskaya Gazeta reported the order specifically prohibits demonstrations, pickets and other public meetings “not connected with the Olympic games” in Sochi between January 7 and March 21. It said the decree also establishes checkpoints and limits vehicle access to the city during the same period in response to what Putin described as security concerns over terrorists from the volatile Caucasus region to the east of the resort on the Black Sea who have threatened to attack the games that will take place between February 7-23.

Putin also banned the sale of weapons in Sochi during the period.

Russian LGBT rights advocates with whom the Washington Blade spoke on Friday said they feel Putin issued the decree, in part, to stop any protests of the country’s broadly worded gay propaganda to minors law during the games.

“It is designed to prevent demonstrations around the propaganda against homosexuality law and other violations of civil freedoms,” Polina Andrianova of Coming Out said during an interview from St. Petersburg. She also dismissed security concerns as a justification for Putin’s decree. “It still doesn’t give him the power to do something that’s not constitutional. It’s not an excuse.”

Nikolai Alekseev of Gay Russia told the Blade “of course” the decree is designed to specifically stop any public challenges of the gay propaganda law and Russia’s LGBT rights record. He said his group plans to appeal the order and the 2007 law he said granted Putin the right to limit public assembly in the country to Russia’s supreme court next week.

Maria Kozlovskaya of the Russian LGBT Network told the Blade from St. Petersburg she feels the decree could also be used to stop non-LGBT protests during the Sochi games.

“It might not be just about LGBT rights, but human rights in general,” she said.

Putin issued the degree against mounting global outrage over the gay propaganda law he signed in June and Russia’s LGBT rights record.

Russian chess champion Gary Kasparov and gay playwright Harvey Fierstein are among those who have called for a boycott of the Sochi games. Author Dan Savage, LGBT rights advocate Cleve Jones and others have called for a boycott of Russian vodka.

President Obama, retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, gay Olympic diver Greg Louganis and a number of LGBT advocacy groups are among those who feel the U.S. should compete in Sochi.

American runner Nick Symmonds criticized Russia’s gay propaganda ban last week during an interview with a Russian news agency after he competed in the World Athletic Championships in Moscow. Figure skater Johnny Weir, whose husband is of Russian descent, told CBS News earlier this month he is “not afraid of being arrested” while at the Olympics.

High jumper Emma Green Tregaro and sprinter Mao Hjelmer, who are from Sweden, painted their fingernails in rainbow colors as they competed in the World Athletic Championships. Green Tregaro wore red fingernail polish during an August 17 high jump competition at the same event because Swedish athletic officials reportedly asked her to change their color.

Yelena Isinbayeva, a Russian Olympic pole vault champion, defended the gay propaganda law as she criticized Green Tregaro and Hjelmer during a press conference last week after she won her third title at the World Athletic Championships. Russian sprinter Kseniya Ryzhova on August 20 dismissed suggestions she and teammate Tatyana Firova challenged the statute when they kissed on the medal podium after they won the women’s 4 x 400 meter rally at the event.

The Russian government did not immediately return the Blade’s request for comment on Putin’s decree.

The International Olympic Committee on Thursday said it had received additional assurances from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak that gay people would be welcome to attend the Olympics.

The IOC declined to provide the Blade a copy of Kozak’s letter, but the Associated Press said he defended the gay propaganda law.

“These legislations apply equally to all persons, irrespective of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation and cannot be regarded as discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Kozak wrote as the AP reported.

Andrianova told the Blade she feels Putin’s decree will affect more than LGBT Russians.

“It violates freedoms of all people,” she said. “It’s maybe directed at us, maybe not, but it violates the human rights of all people.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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