When President Vladimir Putin signed the anti-gay "propaganda" bill on June 30th, he was playing politics. In the name of both protecting children and opposing "Western values," he could curry favor with citizens and draw their attention away from other issues, like Russia's rising unemployment.
Putin surely knew he would trigger opposition in the United States; that was part of its political appeal. But he may not have anticipated such intense and sweeping opposition. American activists are engaging in boycotts and other forms of protest, Hitler analogies are flowing like vodka in Koltsovov, and President Obama has blasted the bill on the Tonight Show.
Note to heads of countries: Don't sign discriminatory bills as you're preparing to host the Olympics.
But another reason that supporters of human rights are so vigorously opposing Putin's embrace of homophobia is that until recently LGBT Russians were gaining freedom. Putin's own government blocked previous versions of the anti-"propaganda" bill, pointing out that it violated the country's constitution and its international human rights obligations.
The federal anti-"propaganda" bill threatens the progress made since Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993. Even if the bill isn't comprehensively enforced, antigay authorities at the local level will be able to use it to persecute LGBT people, and it legitimizes hatred is in a country with a persistent problem of antigay hate crime. Its indirect consequences could therefore be deadly.
President Obama has pledged to lead internationally on LGBT rights, and to that end, he met with Russian LGBT activists (among other activists) during the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg. But as we recommend in our report -- "Convenient Targets: The Anti-Propaganda Law and the Threat to LGBT Rights in Russia" -- the president should ground his opposition to Russia's antigay law in a more consistent position vis-à-vis countries that criminalize homosexuality. This would not only be the right thing to do, it also would help demonstrate that his criticism of Russia's backslide on LGBT freedom is a matter of fundamental human rights, not a selective move in an increasingly testy bilateral relationship.
Homosexuality is illegal in more than 70 countries, and it's punishable by death in at least five and possibly in as many as seven. Many of these countries are key U.S. allies, frequent recipients of American aid, arms, and praise, including these ten.
Afghanistan. The United States has spent enormous money and energy trying to strengthen the government of Afghanistan, which came to power due to the U.S. invasion. Although Afghanistan is still officially an Islamic Republic, there have been no recorded executions for homosexuality since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. But "pederasty," the term used in the law to describe all same-sex relations, is still a serious offense, and in 2004 an American adviser to the government was arrested and jailed for allegedly having sex with an Afghan.
Bangladesh. According to the State Department, the United States' "excellent" relations with Bangladesh reflect "the two countries' strong bonds of friendship and shared values." Under Bangladesh's penal code, those engaging in same-sex relations can be put in prison for life. In July, police in the capital city of Dhaka arrested a lesbian couple, Shibronty Roy Puja and Sanjida Akter, for "marrying" in secret.
Kenya. The State Department says the United States and Kenya have an "enduring strategic partnership," one that's gotten closer in recent years as the countries have teamed up to battle terrorism. In Kenya, homosexuality carries a sentence of up to 14 years, 21 with extenuating circumstances. According to the Kenya Human Rights Commission, security forces routinely harass, arrest, and detain LGBT Kenyans, and they demand bribes or sex in exchange for leniency. Those who refuse are sometimes raped.
Pakistan. Despite tensions with the United States, Pakistan remains a crucial "War on Terror" ally. Its legal system is a hybrid of Sharia Law and British colonial law, which both criminalize homosexuality. Section 377 of the penal code -- still operative not just in Pakistan but in other former British colonies: Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Maldives, and Jamaica -- says: "Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than two years nor more than ten years, and shall also be liable to fine."
Qatar. For the last two decades, Qatar has been a major military ally of the United States and now hosts U.S. Central Command's Forward Headquarters and the Combined Air Operations Center. Its penal code makes sex between men punishable by up to seven years in prison (lesbian sex is legal.) Sharia law is also operative, so at least theoretically Qatari Muslims could be executed for homosexuality. Qatar's antigay laws are sure to draw more attention because the country will host the World Cup in 2022.
Saudi Arabia. One of the most important U.S. strategic and economic allies, Saudi Arabia is the linchpin of American policy in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, which has no penal code, administers Sharia Law, under which married men who engage in homosexual acts can be stoned to death. The religious police (the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice) have raided private gatherings to arrest suspected homosexuals. In 2005, they arrested 100 men at a private party. Charged with "deviant" sexual behavior, they were sentenced to prison time and flogging.
Singapore. The United States has a free trade agreement with Singapore, which has also been a steadfast ally in the fight against terrorism. The bad news is that sex between men is illegal; the better news is that this bad is seldom enforced. A 2007 review of its penal code resulted in the legalization of sodomy for heterosexuals and lesbians but male gay sex -- proscribed by the Section 377, a repressive relic of British colonial rule -- remained illegal. Uganda. The rare country whose antigay policies have caused serious friction with the United States, this War-on-Terror ally sparked a furor in the West when its parliament took up the infamous "Kill the Gays" Bill. That bill is stalled for now, but homosexuality carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Beginning at the end of 2012, Uganda police intensified its persecution of LGBT activists, targeting the Youth on Rock Foundation (YRF), which runs anti-AIDS programs for youth. It arrested and detained four activists affiliated with the organization: Joseph Kawesi, Kabuye Najibu, Martin (Morgan) Kanyike, and Nsubuga Pin.
United Arab Emirates. A "key partner" to the United States on "issues including defense, non-proliferation, trade, law enforcement, energy policy, and cultural exchange," the United Arab Emirates has a vague statute that, according to some interpretations, make homosexuality punishable by death. In any case, the county's individual emirates, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, punish homosexual acts with maximum penalties of 14 and 10 years, respectively. In June, a Belgian man who told the police he was gay was sentenced to one year in prison (later reduced to six months) and deportation.
Yemen. The Yemeni government has become a close partner to the United States as they battle Al Qaeda. In Yemen, an Islamic Republic that administers Sharia law, homosexuality carries a sentence of up to one year in prison for unmarried men, death by stoning for married men, and up to seven years for women. The government's official position is that Yemen has no homosexuals. According to one report that cites official documents, Yemeni authorities have arrested as many as 316 men for homosexuality over the last two years.