State Department Issues Warning

By Lisa Keen

Keen News Service

The U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory Saturday for citizens traveling to Russia for the Winter Olympics next month, including a specific warning that "vague guidance" from Russia about its new laws making "it a crime to promote LGBT equality in public" could be used to fine, deport, or jail foreign visitors.

The LGBT warning was part of a longer advisory alerting Americans traveling to Sochi, Russia, for the Olympics that such highly publicized global events are seen as an "attractive target" for terrorists and that several acts of terrorism have already been perpetrated in Russia in the past few weeks.

The advisory, issued January 10, urges American citizens to "avoid large crowds in areas that lack enhanced security measures" and to use caution "in any areas where protests, demonstrations, or other public disturbances are taking place."

"Demonstrations intended to be peaceful can develop quickly and unpredictably, sometimes turning violent," notes the advisory.

The possibility of LGBT-related protests in Russia has been a concern since last June, when the Russian government approved its anti-gay laws. Although the Russian government says the laws are just focused on protecting children from "non-traditional sexual relations," the legislation goes much further. Signed by President Vladimir Putin in June and July, they also prohibit any public displays of affection by same-sex couples and any public events related to LGBT people.

Early talk by activists of staging protests or wearing rainbow pins or waving rainbow flags at the Olympics was met with promises by the Russian government of tough enforcement of its laws. Putin and Russian officials have softened their tone in recent weeks, and earlier this month and said they would provide a designated area in a nearby village for protests. Then earlier this month, Putin signed an executive order that will require protesters to secure approval in advance.

But tensions seemed to be ready to escalate again over the weekend, when the head of the Russian Orthodox Church suggested the Russian people vote on whether to re-criminalize homosexuality.

The State Department advisory notes that foreign citizens could be fined as much as $3,100, jailed for 14 days, and deported for violating the laws.

"The law makes it a crime to promote LGBT equality in public, but lacks concrete legal definitions for key terms," notes the advisory. "Russian authorities have indicated a broad interpretation of what constitutes 'LGBT propaganda,' and provided vague guidance as to which actions will be interpreted by authorities as 'LGBT propaganda.'


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