Russia Warns Olympic Athletes Could Be Fined or Arrested for Violating Ant-Gay Laws

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Anti-gay sentiment runs high in Russia, where homosexuality was illegal during the Soviet Union and only decriminalized in 1993. A law that sent homosexuals to psychiatric wards wasn't annulled until 1999. Petitions for gay pride parades in Moscow have been rejected and unsanctioned rallies are often met by egg-throwing Russian Orthodox believers as well as physical violence. Police are often seen ignoring the attacks and detaining the gay rights activists.

In recent months, a new trend of attacks has gained popularity on Russian social media. Groups lure gay men online into meeting them in person, then humiliate and attack them on camera. They post the images and videos online under a hashtag that translates as "Occupy Pedophilia."

The United States has not yet issued any specific warning to gay Americans traveling to Russia. The State Department's informational page about Russia, however, does take note of the law and notes the dangers faced by those who are openly gay in Russia.

"Discrimination based on sexual orientation is widespread in Russia. Harassment, threats, and acts of violence targeting LGBT individuals have occurred," the State Department page says. "Public actions (including dissemination of information, statements, displays, or perceived conspicuous behavior) contradicting or appearing to contradict such laws may lead to arrest, prosecution, and the imposition of a fine."

The concern about discrimination against foreigners attending the Olympics comes amid a renewed effort abroad to pressure Russia about the new anti-gay law, including calls for boycott of the games as well as of Russian products.

While calls for a full boycott of the games have been few thus far, some activists, including the group Human Rights Campaign, are urging NBC, which will air the games in the United States, to include stories about the anti-gay law in its coverage.

Mark Lazarus, the head of NBC Sports, has promised that if the law impacts any part of the Winter Games "we will make sure we are acknowledging it and recognizing it," according to the Guardian.

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