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Russia anti-gay law prompts protests over Sochi Olympics

Posted By GABRIELLE LEVY, UPI.com   |   Aug. 2, 2013 at 12:05 PM   |   Comments

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Aug. 2 (UPI) -- Russian lawmakers have found themselves under increasing pressure over the nation's new anti-gay law, signed by President Vladimir Putin in June.

With the Olympics coming to Sochi next February, the International Olympic Committee and NBC -- which holds broadcast rights to the games -- have fielded calls from gay rights activists to take a stand.

Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak made assurances that foreign citizens in country for the Olympics would not be subject to the law, under which they could be jailed for 15 days and then deported for "propagandizing" homosexuality, including public displays of affection by same-sex couples.

"We rest with comments made directly to us by deputy PM Kozak," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said.

"The Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes," the IOC said in a statement. "We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardize this principle."

"To that end, 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."

But rights groups aren't assuaged, especially after the country's sports minister countered Kozak's statements.

"An athlete of nontraditional sexual orientation isn't banned from coming to Sochi," said Vitaly Mutko. "But if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable."

"Instead of listening to Russia's hollow assurances, IOC president Jacques Rogge should stand up for the Olympic charter's commitment to promoting human dignity and insist that the Russian government immediately takes steps to repeal the law and, in the meantime, refrains from implementing it," Human Rights Watch wrote on its website.

Calls to protest and boycott Russia and the games have gained steam, often in the form of "vodka dumping" and bars refusing to serve Russian alcohol.

Meanwhile, Solichnaya has spoken out to defend its brand and offer support to the gay community.

"We fully support and endorse your objectives to fight against prejudice in Russia," said CEO Val Mendeleev, while adding that Stoli is made from Russian ingredients but owned by a group headquartered in Luxembourg. "In the past decade, [we have] been actively advocating in favor of freedom, tolerance and openness in society, standing very passionately on the side of the LGBT community and will continue to support any effective initiative in that direction."

Others have suggested the best protest would be to pressure the government, but compete with pride and "beat the Russians on their own track" following the "Jesse Owens model."

"Instead of walking away, LGBT athletes and their nations should march into Sochi holding their heads high," said gay athletics organization Outsports.

And openly gay figure skater Johnny Weir, who is hoping to compete in his third Olympics in February and has been invited to perform in St. Petersburg, agreed.

"I am far too passionate about supporting the community on the ground rather than to watch from the sidelines and do nothing aside from drinking Swedish or Polish vodka instead of Russian," Weir said. "I will perform in a country who's government would prefer having me in prison than entertaining her population, because I support the population and not the government."

For its part, the U.S. Olympic Committee has rejected the idea of an all-out Olympic boycott.

"These are serious issues but they are not solved by Olympic boycotts," committee CEO Scott Blackmun said. "It is an issue that is concerning to the IOC and the IOC is in discussions with authorities in Russia about how to ensure everybody goes to Russia for the Olympic Games, but especially our athletes, don't feel persecuted while they're there.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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