Putin: Gay rights protesters wonât face prosecution during Olympics

Russian President Vladimir Putin told ABC Newsâ George Stephanopoulos during an interview his network aired on Sunday that those who protest the Kremlinâs LGBT rights record during the 2014 Winter Olympics will not face prosecution under Russiaâs controversial law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

ãActs of protest and acts of propaganda are somewhat different things,ä Putin told Stephanopoulos through a translator during an interview with him and a handful of other journalists from Russia, China and the U.K., that took place in Sochi, Russia, on Friday. ãThey are close, but if we were to look at them from the legal perspective, then protesting a law does not amount to propaganda of sexuality or sexual abuse of children.ä

Putin once again sought to downplay concerns over the gay propaganda law ahead of the Sochi games that begin on Feb. 6 during his interview with Stephanopoulos that aired on ãThis Week with George Stephanopoulos.ä

ãIt has nothing to do with prosecuting people for their non-traditional orientation,ä he told Stephanopoulos. ãIn this country, everybody is absolutely equal to anybody else, irrespective of oneâs religion, sex, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Everybody is equal. So no concerns exist for people who intend to come as athletes or visitors to the Olympics.ä

Putin said during the interview that ãhomosexuality remains a felonyä in some U.S. states ÷ Stephanopoulos pointed out the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down these anti-sodomy laws.

The Russian president also noted homosexuality remains a crime in 70 countries ÷ and seven of these nations impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of same-sex sexual relations.

Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993.

ãRussia does not criminally prosecute people for being gay, unlike in over one-third of the worldâs nations,ä said Putin.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin criticized Putinâs comments to Stephanopoulos.

ãPresident Putinâs public interpretation of the countryâs anti-LGBT law is beyond comprehension,ä said Griffin in a statement. ãThis law was designed to do nothing less than secure second class status for LGBT Russians and visitors. It does nothing to protect children, but goes great lengths to harm families.

Putin spoke with Stephanopoulos and other journalists from Russia, China and the U.K. a day before authorities detained a protester who unfurled a rainbow flag as the Olympic torch relay passed through the city of Voronezh.
Putin on Friday once again sought to downplay concerns over Russiaâs gay propaganda law during a meeting with Olympic volunteers in Sochi.

ãWe arenât banning anything, we arenât rounding up anyone, we have no criminal punishment for such relations unlike many other countries,ä said the Russian president as the Associated Press reported. ãOne can feel relaxed and at ease, but please leave the children in peace.ä

LGBT rights advocates blasted Putinâs comments.

ãThis statement demonstrates very well how the official discourse labels LGBT people as a threat to children, instilling fear and hatred in the society,ä Anastasia Smirnova, spokesperson for a coalition of six Russian LGBT advocacy groups that includes the Russian LGBT Network, told the Blade on Friday.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who has frequently criticized the Kremlin over its LGBT rights record, described Putinâs comments as ãsickening.ä

The U.S. State Department on Jan. 10 issued an alert to Americans who plan to travel to Sochi that highlighted ongoing security concerns and the vagueness of Russiaâs gay propaganda law.

ãThe job to Olympics host is to ensure security of the participants in the Olympics and visitors,ä Putin told Stephanopoulos. ãWe will do whatever it takes.ä