The Armenian police withdrew on Thursday a controversial bill that would ban any public promotion of "non-traditional sexual relationships" in the country just days after circulating it through the Internet.
The proposed amendments to Armenia’s Code of Administrative Offenses envisaged heavy fines for citizens and legal entities propagating homosexuality. They cited the need to protect “the model of the traditional Armenian family” against “phenomena alien to national Armenian mentality.”
The bill prompted concern from some civil rights activists after being posted on the police website earlier this week. The authorities in Yerevan also risked negative reaction from Western governments and human rights groups. The latter strongly criticized similar legislation that was recently enacted in Russia.
Ashot Aharonian, a police spokesman, insisted that the bill was not withdrawn under domestic or foreign pressure. He said the Armenian police chief, Vladimir Gasparian, ordered its removal from the agenda because of its “shortcomings” exposed by critics and the fact that the issue is not a top priority for the police at the moment.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Aharonian also claimed that a legal department at the national police service drafted the amendments in response to letters from many Armenians worried about they see as growing public manifestations of homosexuality. He said the Armenian authorities never intended to crack down on sexual minorities.
Mamikon Hovsepian, the head of the PINK Armenia non-governmental group promoting LGBT tolerance in Armenia, suggested that indirect Russian influence was instrumental in the drafting of the bill. “This is definitely the shadow of Russia. We live in Russia’s shadow,” he said.
“The police are trying to improve their reputation in the people’s eyes,” speculated another campaigner, Sevak Kirakosian. He said the proposed ban on gay “propaganda” might have also been a government attempt to deflect the public’s attention from socioeconomic problems.
Armenia and the majority of other former Soviet republics decriminalized homosexuality in the early 1990s, but hostility toward gays and lesbians remains high. Not surprisingly, some Armenian NGOs have openly voiced support for the police initiative.
One of them, the Armenian Organization for Constitutional Rights Defense, said the bill does not violate human rights. “Nobody wants to prevent anybody from having such a lifestyle,” it said in a statement. “But there are many people who do not want this lifestyle to be imposed on them and their children watching television.”