Around three hundred gay rights protesters gathered outside the Russian consulate in the Belgian city of Antwerp on Friday to protest against recently introduced anti-gay laws in Russia.
The law, signed by President Vladimir Putin, prohibits “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” and imposes fines on those organising gay pride marches.
The protest organiser, Marcia Poelman, said that “the law is so vaguely formulated that you can use the law to criminalise every expression of being gay or lesbian.” She added that it is a way to “erase homosexuality” from people’s minds and make it “invisible.”
The law has been heavily criticised internationally with many calls for protests or a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games due to be held in the Russian resort of Sochi and the World Athletics Championships in Moscow that start this weekend. The International Olympic Committee has said it wants clarification of how the law will be applied.
Jacques Rogge from the I.O.C. said: “The Olympic Charter is very clear. It says that sport is a human right and should be available to everybody regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation. The games themselves should be open for all, so our position is very clear.”
Russia has hit back at critics and played down the claims of discrimination.
“Nobody has ever got arrested for his sexual orientation here in Russia. Don’t succumb to the hysteria that perverts across Europe have started. Our highest paid-artists have a non-traditional sexual orientation and they have not faced any discrimination,” explained Vitaly Milonov, a Member of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg.
Russia has made the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi a top priority for the promotion of a modern image of the country. However, with the World Athletic Championships in Moscow beginning this weekend amid protests that image appears to have been tarnished.