- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Legislation passed last year made it illegal in Russia to even speak about homosexuality in the presence of minors, and officials are warning that the law could be applied to foreigners visiting for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The ban against “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” around minors prohibits public displays of affection by gays, including holding hands or displaying symbols like a rainbow flag, ABC News reported. Offenders face steep fines and jail time, and foreigners face similar penalties plus deportation, the report said.

Vitaly Milonov, who sponsored the legislation that became the basis for the law signed by President Vladimir Putin in June, told the Interfax news agency that fans and athletes visiting Sochi next year would not be immune from the strict speech laws.

“If a law has been approved by the federal legislature and signed by the president, then the government has no right to suspend it. It doesn’t have the authority,” he said, according to the report.

ABC News notes that Mr. Milonov is only a regional lawmaker and the International Olympic Committee appears at least “cautiously optimistic that the games will be safe for gay athletes and fans.”

“This legislation has just been passed into law and it remains to be seen whether and how it will be implemented, particularly as regards the Games in Sochi,” the IOC said in a statement.

“The IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games,” it added.

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