The Russian government has been at the center of a whirlwind of controversy over its handling of gay rights as it readies to host the Sochi Winter Olympic Games next year.
And now St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, who wrote “gay propaganda” legislation that precipitated three federal anti-gay laws signed by President Vladimir Putin in June, says that homosexual and "pro-gay" athletes and tourists attending the games will face arrest under the laws.
"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 said in an interview with Interfax, adding, "Any normal athlete or sport fan arrives to support his team and to watch sport events in their splendor, not to violate the laws of the hosting country."
The new anti-gay legislation authorizes the Russian government to apprehend foreigners who are deemed to be “pro-gay” and to detain them for up to 14 days before deporting them.
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Milonov’s remarks followed statements by the International Olympic Committee suggesting it had obtained assurances from Russian authorities that people attending or participating in the Olympic Games next winter would be exempted from the so-called “gay propaganda” statutes.
The committee’s statement to Russian news outlet R-Sport said that Russian authorities had made promises that the laws would not impact attendees or athletes.
“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,” the committee said in the emailed statement, adding, “This legislation has just been passed into law, and it remains to be seen whether and how it will be implemented, particularly as regards the games in Sochi.”
Despite the reported assurances, Milonov said the laws -- which criminalize “pro-gay” behavior, ban adoption of Russian children by homosexual couples and parents who support gay marriage and allow for foreign nationals to be arrested, detained and deported if they are deemed to be homosexual or “pro-gay” -- will be enforced during the Olympic Games and that athletes and tourists will not be exempted.
The controversy over potential arrests and deportations of gay athletes and tourists attending the Olympics next year comes as the nation remains in turmoil as gay rights demonstrators across the nation continue to be arrested by law enforcement officers and beaten by anti-gay crusaders.
And a number of American, Canadian and Australian gay bars have stopped serving Russian vodka brands like Zyr and Stolichnaya in protest of the Russian government’s crackdown on gays and gay rights supporters.
No matter what happens, it is clear that the sporting events won't be the only source of drama at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.