03:30 GMT +3 hours25 November 2014
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First 'Gay Propaganda' Fine Handed out in St. Petersburg

Russia
(updated 18:28 28.10.2014)
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Russia's most vocal gay rights campaigner has become the first person to be fined under a new law banning homosexual "propaganda" in St. Petersburg, the country's second city.

Russia's most vocal gay rights campaigner has become the first person to be fined under a new law banning homosexual "propaganda" in St. Petersburg, the country's second city.

Nikolai Alexeyev, the leader of GayRussia, was fined 5,000 rubles ($170) by a court on Friday, after he was detained for picketing outside St. Petersburg's legislature building last month in protest at what he described as the "homophobic" new law.

He denies the accusations against him.

The legislation, which makes it illegal to "disseminate homosexual propaganda" among minors, was signed by St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko in March, making it the fourth Russian city to adopt the ban.

Several politicians and church figures have called for the law, which sets fines of up to to 500,000 rubles ($17,000) for violations, to be passed at a federal level.

A number of gay campaigners were fined in Russia's southern Astrakhan region last month.

Homosexuality was only decriminalized in Russia in 1993, and anti-gay sentiments remain strong in society, including Russia's political establishment. In 2007, Former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov described attempts to hold a Gay Parade in the capital as "satanic." No Gay Parade has ever been officially-sanctioned in Russia.

According to a 2010 survey by Russia's independent Levada Center polling agency, 74 percent of respondents said gays and lesbians were "amoral" and "mentally defective," while only 45 percent said they should enjoy the same rights as heterosexuals.

Pop singer Madonna pledged to speak out against the law when she performs in St. Petersburg in August.

Russia's human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, called the law "strange" and said it "created conditions for the arbitrary rule of law toward adults" in a report published in the Rossiskaya Gazeta government newspaper last month.

St. Petersburg LGBT group Coming Out said it resembled Stalinist repression.

At least 17 gay rights activists were detained at a May Day demonstration in St. Petersburg, the city's LGBT group Coming Out said. They were charged with failing to follow police instructions.