Gay athletes and supporters at Russia’s 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games could face arrest under the country’s newly approved anti-gay legislation.
That's according to politician Vitaly Milonov, who says the law cannot be selectively enforced nor suspended, despite claims from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that the Russian government has given assurances as to the safety of athletes and supporters, regardless of their sexual orientation.
In an interview with Interfax news agency, Milonov said: “I haven’t heard any comments from the government of the Russian Federation, but I know that it is acting in accordance with Russian law.
Gay rights activists shout slogans during a rally in St Petersburg on 29 June
“And if a law has been approved by the federal legislature and signed by the president, then the government has no right to suspend it. It doesn’t have the authority.”
Milonov, who co-sponsored the bill against “non-traditional relationships”, added he had “spoken with many American politicians” and that they “support the stance I’ve taken on this issue.”
His comments came after the IOC issued a statement on July 17 to the Windy City Times.
It said: “The International Olympic Committee is clear that sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation… The Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes. We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardise this principle.”
The “gay propaganda” ban was enacted in June and essentially bans displays of homosexuality. It is also “illegal to spread information about non-traditional sexual behaviour” to minors (under 18s).
Signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, the legislation gives the Russian government the right to detail gay or “pro-gay” foreigners up to 14 days before facing expulsion from the country.
The law has caused outrage in the LGBT community, with sex blogger Dan Savage responding by calling for a boycott of two premium Russian vodka brands.
Savage had reasoned there would be no impact in announcing a boycott of the Sochi Games.
"Most of us weren't planning to go to the Olympic games in Russia this winter, of course, so we wouldn't be able to participate in a boycott if one got off the ground," he wrote.
Gay rights in Russia have come in for constant criticism. Gay pride participants were badly beaten during clashes with anti-gay demonstrators in St Petersburg last month, with Russian police arresting dozens of people.
Just last week, four Dutch tourists were arrested for breaching the new ban, though later released.