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Russian minister: Sochi Olympians must obey anti-gay law

MOSCOW -- Russia's sports minister warned today that Olympians and visitors to the 2014 Sochi Olympics must abide by the nation's anti-gay laws that prohibit "gay propaganda."

Sports Minister Vitaly Mutka's remarks contradict those made by the International Olympic Committee, which had said that the Russian government would exempt tourists and Olympians from the anti-gay laws.

"No one is forbidding an athlete with non-traditional sexual orientation from coming to Sochi, but if he goes onto the street and starts propagandizing it, then of course he will be held accountable," Mutko told R-Sport.

Russia has been condemned by most western nations for its anti-gay policies, which have led to a surge of homophobic-based violence against LGBT Russians. Russian authorities have arrested protesters against the law, and even jailed foreigners.

The legislation, signed into law by President Vladimir Putin in June, levies fines for such offenses from 800,000 rubles ($24,000) to 1 million rubles ($30,500) for legal entities, from 4,000 rubles ($120) to 5,000 rubles ($150) for individuals and from 40,000 rubles ($1,220) to 50,000 rubles ($1,530) for officials, according to R-Sport.

Meanwhile, the global LGBT community has launched protests against Russia and its products, with a wide-scale boycott of Russian vodka. Pressure has been applied to NBC Sports, which will broadcast the Sochi Olympics, and prominent advertisers such as Coca-Cola, McDonald's Procter & Gamble, Samsung and Visa.

Some people are calling for nations to boycott the Sochi Olympics, but prominent LGBT athletes such as Johnny Weir and Greg Luganis are opposed to that tactic.

HRC reacts to today's news

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko’s remarks call into question the IOC’s claims that it has received assurances from “the highest level of government in Russia” that international LGBT Olympians and visitors to the 2014 Sochi Games would be exempt from a newly-passed law prohibiting “homosexual propaganda,” the Human Rights Campaign notes.

“With this latest development, one wonders which Russian authorities the IOC is speaking to,” said Fred Sainz, HRC vice president for communications. “Within the past two days, two Russian officials have gone out of their way to contradict the IOC in no uncertain terms. The opinion of the Russian government is now perfectly clear: If you’re gay and you come to Russia for the Olympics, you may be imprisoned and deported.

“What this makes all the more clear is that LGBT Russians and expats alike are also in peril. The law is so obtuse that circumstances can be contrived to prosecute LGBT individuals who are simply living their lives. These laws are an abomination and pose a human rights imperative for all to speak out.”

Earlier this week, HRC president Chad Griffin called on the IOC not to be credulous: “Mere verbal assurances from the Russian government that foreigners will be exempt from their repressive laws are not enough. The IOC must obtain ironclad written assurance from President Putin. But more importantly, they should be advocating for the safety of all LGBT people in Russia, not simply those visiting for the Olympics. Rescinding this heinous law must be our collective goal.”

Now, it seems, this call to action is all the more urgent.