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Law banning “gay propaganda” will allow Russia to block publications on prison torture, lawyers say

Russia’s recent move to ban “gay propaganda” will introduce a number of changes to its laws – in particular, to the law titled “On Information, Information Technology and Information Protection.”

In addition to introducing a ban on the dissemination of content “promoting non-traditional sexual relationships and/or preferences,” the word “cult” will be removed from the law. While the law previously banned the distribution of content “promoting pornography, the cult of violence and cruelty, and publications containing obscene language,” after the law is passed, it will simply penalize content that “promotes violence.” This definition could, if desired, be used to restrict publications about torture, according to a number of Russian lawyers.

“The prior ban on the distribution of materials promoting a cult of violence and cruelty gave fewer grounds to classify publications regarding torture or other unlawful violent acts as prohibited content,” says Konstantin Dobrynin, a lawyer and former vice-chairman of the Federal Chamber of Attorneys. “The new wording of the law, which has removed the word ‘cult’, could well now be used to ban these publications – given extra diligence and zeal on part of law enforcement.”
However, I have to stress that the law refers to the propaganda of violence and cruelty – that is, the formation of a positive attitude toward violent actions and the justification of the need to commit such acts. Therefore, publications about torture can fall under the ban only if they’re made in an appropriate context. If the demonstration or description of these acts is aimed at drawing attention to a social problem and is accompanied by a negative assessment of them, then the distribution of such content can’t be classified as propaganda of violence and cruelty. However, nowadays, the media should be extremely careful when working on publications such as these, as there’s no guarantee that law enforcement will interpret the phenomenon in the same way as journalists do.”

According to lawyer Dmitry Zakhvatov, the law specifically targets publications that advocate and promote violence and cruelty – but it cannot be ruled out that torture-related content will be blocked along the same lines. Human rights activist Iryna Biryukova notes that the prosecution will have to prove the existence of propaganda – otherwise there will be no crime. It remains unknown as to how the law will be applied in practice.

“Only those publications that sort of say that [violence and cruelty] is good, that it’s right, that it’s no big deal, will violate the law» says Biryukova. “I think that changing this part of the law is a game of wording. The ‘cult of violence’ is something permanent – the raison d'être for some groups is the use of violence and cruelty. And this is very difficult to prove, and few people get caught. By removing the word ‘cult’, the article suddenly applies to a much broader group of people. For example, let’s say someone comments on a video with torture saying ‘they were right, they should be killed, tortured and so on.’ This already falls under the article. This is if we go by the meaning of the law. We’ll see how they apply it [in practice].”

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