The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday (20 June) that Russia's 'gay propaganda' law is discriminatory and encourages homophobia.

The law, which Russian MPs unanimously voted in favour of in 2013, bans the 'promotion' of homosexuality among people under 18.

The Strasbourg judges condemned the law as being incompatible with the values of a democratic society.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in Russia in 1993, but prejudice against the LGBT community still runs deep. Moscow has recently faced widespread criticism over reports that gay men are being tortured in concentration camps in the Russian federal republic of Chechnya.

Human rights activists say that homophobic violence is rarely prosecuted and that Russian legislation provides assailants with a shield to hide behind.

The Russian government says the 'gay propaganda' law is necessary as it protects family values and prevents young children from being exposed to content that presents homosexuality as being a "behavioural norm".

Vladimir Putin recently told American film director Oliver Stone in an interview that the law was intended to "provide children with the opportunity to grow up without impacting their consciousness".

The Russian president insisted that the freedom of LGBT people in Russia was not restricted in any way.

"When [children] grow up, they may take any decision on their future, including private and sexual ones," he said.

The ECHR rejected the Kremlin's claim that such a law was needed to protect morality. The court ruled that the government had been unable to provide any "explanation of the mechanism by which a minor could be enticed into 'a homosexual lifestyle', let alone science-based evidence that one's sexual orientation or identity was susceptible to change under external influence."

Since the law was introduced in 2013, violence against the LGBT community has intensified. Tanya Lokshina, Russia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IBTimes UK that anti-LGBT vigilante groups started to emerge at this time. These groups lure gay men on the pretext of a fake date and then hold them against their will, beating and humiliating them by videotaping their meeting and sharing it online.

One man, identified only as Alexei, was beaten so badly by vigilantes that he required surgery. Police released his attackers without questioning or searching them. Alexei filed a formal complaint against the assailants, but they retaliated by submitting a complaint that he had propositioned a 15-year-old-boy. He withdrew his complaint, fearing for his and his family's safety.

Members of the LGBT community told HRW in 2014 that they had developed anxiety and become depressed following these attacks. They said they were frequently subjected to obscene verbal attacks, physical assaults and fined for staging demonstrations and expressing their views.

Under the 'gay propaganda' law, any individual who is believed to be promoting "homosexual behaviour among minors" can face fines of up to 5,000 roubles (£67). Businesses and schools can be fined up to 500,000 roubles.

Three gay Russian activists were fined after they were found guilty of protesting against the law outside a secondary school in Ryazan, a children's library in Archangel and an administrative building in St Petersburg between 2009-2012.

The ECHR said the fines violated Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered Russia to pay each of the activists damages of between €8,000 and €20,000 (£7,000-£17,500).

Activists hailed the ECHR ruling as an "enormous victory for LGBT people in Russia".

"We strongly welcome today's ruling, not least given the renewed urgency over investigating the reports of a terrifying campaign of mass abduction and torture of gay men in Chechnya," Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia Research Deputy Director, told IBTimes UK.

"The law is blatantly discriminatory and violates the right to freedom of expression, and its introduction has undoubtedly contributed to homophobia and violence targeting LGBT people in Russia," he said.

"Now Russia is under an obligation to implement [the ruling] fully, not only through paying relevant compensation but also, on a substantive level, through eliminating this discriminatory law," Lokshina said.