October 17, 2013
As the 14th European AIDS Conference (EACS 2013) opened on Oct. 16, the European AIDS Clinical Society issued a statement condemning a recent law passed in Russia that has been widely viewed as anti-gay. The law, Article 6.21 of the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses, was passed on June 30; it allows the Russian government to heavily fine or arrest individuals accused of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations amongst minors."
While "propaganda" and "non-traditional sexual relations" are not clearly defined, the penalties are steep. Russians can be fined the equivalent of $150 to $1,500 in U.S. money, but if the "propaganda" appears in the media or on the Internet, the fine can go up to $3,000. Foreigners can be similarly fined, as well as jailed for 15 days or deported.
Many see this law as detrimental to the HIV community. The link between reducing HIV prevalence by protecting the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and making it easier for its members to freely access health and prevention services is clear, Nathan Clumeck, M.D., co-chair of EACS 2013, points out. "As scientists, we have a moral obligation to say what is unacceptable and what is counterproductive. We are not talking about ideology. We are talking about evidence-based medicine," Clumeck said during an EACS press conference.
The official statement declares: "The EACS fully recognizes that it is appropriate to protect minors from harmful information. However, we are concerned that the provisions not only affect basic human rights, but also result in harmful public health policy since they add to the already existing barriers related to HIV prevention, diagnosis, access and retention in care."
In the statement, the EACS calls upon the Russian government to respect the rights of all people and to abolish the law. "By doing this, the Russian government has a perfect opportunity to advance the human rights of gays and lesbians, and thereby support controlling its HIV and HCV epidemics," it concludes.
Belgium Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, who is openly gay, spoke at the conference's opening ceremony. Di Rupo praised the success of pro-LGBT legislation passed in Belgium and called for other countries to adopt the same accepting attitude.
Warren Tong is the research editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Warren on Twitter: @WarrenAtTheBody.
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