Kiev’s public prosecutor is targeting a well-regarded gay newspaper under laws banning the distribution of pornography, while newspaper kiosks across the city openly sell explicit erotic heterosexual magazines.

Since 2003 Nash Mir, the oldest Ukrainian LGBT human rights organisation, has published Gay.Ua newspaper.

“The newspaper is registered as an “information, for leisure, and erotic” edition,”" Nash Mir said in a statement.

“Gay.Ua publishes articles about the life of homosexuals, provides legal and psychological counselling, places personals from gays and lesbians, and also has erotic pictures and articles.

“This newspaper is the only one for sexual minorities in Ukraine, and has been well-received and praised by its readers.

“The newspaper is distributed mainly to readers within gay-community.

“Gay.Ua is not accessible by nor intended for wider readership.”

In December 2007 the National Expert Commission of Ukraine on the Issues of Public Morality (operating in accordance with Law of Ukraine “protection of public morality”), made a ruling that Gay.Ua is a pornographic product.

According to the commission, a picture of a man with an erect penis and a story on a sexual subject are pornography.

Nash Mir has appealed to gay rights groups in the West to help them.

Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and Patricia Prendiville, executive director of the Europe branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, have written to the President of Ukraine and others complaining about a “violation of freedom of expression and discrimination.”

“The criminal action initiated against the staff of the Nash Mir Centre is discriminatory because it targets only the publisher of LGBT news and information, selectively employing the notion of public morality,” they wrote.

“The criminal action stands in contrast to the human rights commitments of Ukraine and to the country’s opening towards the principles upheld in the rest of Europe, where governments increasingly take action to protect the LGBT community from discrimination.”

IGLHRC and ILGA-Europe said that Ukraine is in breach of the European Convention for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, to which the Eastern European nation is a signatory.

Ukraine is not a member of the EU.

“In its decision in Scherer vs. Switzerland in January 1993, the Court stated: “it is of particular relevance whether or not the obscene material at issue was displayed to the general public,”" said Ms Prendiville and Ms Ettelbrick.

“The newspaper of Nash Mir is not meant for general distribution, and is only posted in sealed envelopes to a closed list of subscribers.

“In the Court’s opinion, the cases of distribution of ‘obscene’ or ‘explicit’ materials does not concern the protection of morals of adult persons in a society in general, as long as “no adult was confronted unintentionally or against his will with the film. Where this is so, there must be particularly compelling reasons justifying the interference at issue.”

“In the case of Muller vs. Switzerland (25 May 1988) the Court has clearly stated that article 10 of the European Convention “is applicable not only to ‘information’ or ‘ideas’ that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any section of the population.”

“We call upon the government of Ukraine to drop the criminal actions initiated against the Nash Mir Centre and to respect and protect the human rights of all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Nash Mir said they had tried to contest the ruling of the National Expert Commission in a judicial order.

During 2007 they submitted eight lawsuits and complaints.

“Not one court accepted a consideration of our lawsuit’s basis: referring to various and contradictory norms of legislation,” the group said in a statement.

“Nor have instances of our appeals at the supreme juridical levels, including Constitutional Court and Supreme Court of Ukraine, brought any results.

“At the same time, at newspaper kiosks a person can readily buy print media materials – for heterosexual men – containing various erotic information, including explicit female photos and sexual articles.

“These outlets have an “OK” from National Expert Commission.

“Is it possible that this type of material when published through heterosexual outlets is erotica, but when published in Gay.Ua newspaper for gays – is misjudged as pornography?”

On February 22, 2008 Kyiv Office of Public Prosecutor instigated a criminal case “on the fact of distribution of pornography” against the staff of Nash Mir Centre.

If found guilty they could face between three and seven years in jail.

While the Ukraine continues to stress its European credentials and seek EU membership, there are questions over its commitment to human rights.

MPs from the governing party last year spoke out about “propaganda and expansion of homosexuality in the country form a threat to national security, contradict national interests and undermine the authority of rights and freedoms of human being and family.”

The Ukranian parliament’s Committee on the Issues of Freedom of Speech has attacked the “increasing propaganda” about gay and lesbian issues.

“Such a situation obliges organs of state power to adopt determined and urgent steps for stopping popularisation of homosexualism, lesbianism, other sexual perversions, which do not correspond to moral principles of the society,” the committee reported.

Since 1991 Ukraine, formerly part of the Soviet Union, has had an equal age of consent and homosexuality was decriminalised at that time.

However, there are no specific protections for LGBT minorities, and the country is generally dominated by the Orthodox church and is deeply socially conservative.

Only 15% of the population are supportive of the existence of gay couples.