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Editor, LGBT support group founder fined under Russia's 'gay propaganda' law

By Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 4:11 AM EST, Sat February 1, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The founder of an online support group for gay teens is fined, state news reports
  • So is an editor whose paper published a story on a teacher and gay activist
  • Both punishments relate to a Russia's controversial law barring "gay propaganda"
  • Critics call the law archaic; Russia's President says it protects children

(CNN) -- Days before Russia hosts the world for the Winter Olympics, authorities have acted to punish those they say violated a ban on "gay propaganda," a prohibition derided by activists and defended by conservatives, who say it protects young people.

Those penalized include Lena Klimova, the creator of an online support group for Russia's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens, state-run RIA Novosti reported Friday.

According to the news agency, the support group features posts from gay teens about dealing with homophobia and trying to gain acceptance in Russia

Activists said Klimova, who set up the Children-404 group on the social networking website Vkontakte, faces a fine of up to 100,000 rubles (about $2,850 U.S.), after an ultraconservative lawmaker urged authorities to look into the site.

Vitaly Milonov, who helped lead the push to enact the legislation, told RIA Novosti he made the request believing the group spurs teenagers to question their sexuality.

"Without such groups, no kids like that would exist," Milonov said.

Passed last summer, the "gay propaganda" law makes it illegal to tell children about gay equality. It has been widely criticized not only by LGBT advocates but also by Western leaders, who have called it archaic and discriminatory.

RIA Novosti called Klimova's case the fifth related to the "gay propaganda" law since it has been enacted.

Another case reported by the same agency on Thursday ended with the editor-in-chief of Molodoi Dalnevostochnik newspaper, in Russia's far eastern Khabarovsk region, being fined 50,000 rubles.

Alexander Suturin was punished for a September article about a geography teacher and gay rights activist who said he was pressured into quitting his job and assaulted by neo-Nazis because of his sexuality, according to a RIA Novosti report.

Suturin denied during his trial that this story was propaganda and vowed to appeal.

These two incidents come about 10 days after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that he had not "heard that this law" -- meaning the "gay propaganda" prohibition -- "was applied in practice."

"There are many talks, but no application of the law, practical application," Medvedev said, adding that much of the criticism has come from outside Russia. "So, I believe that this has nothing in common with the real situation in our country."

Days earlier, on January 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin defended a law that he said was about protecting children, not about banning homosexuality.

Putin: Gays 'can feel safe' at Sochi Winter Olympics

"We have just recently passed a law prohibiting propaganda, and not of homosexuality, but of homosexuality and child abuse, child sexual abuse. But this has nothing to do with persecuting individuals for their sexual orientation," he told reporters.

"So, there is no danger for people of such nontraditional sexual orientation who are planning to come to the games as guests or participants."

The scrutiny over the law comes at a time when Russia is under the spotlight as host of the upcoming Winter Olympics. They start February 7 in the Black Sea city of Sochi.

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