Ads agency fined millions for gay smooch poster in Kazakhstan29 october 2014, 14:35
Creative agency Havas Worldwide Kazakhstan has been under fire ever since the poster advertising a gay bar in Almaty called “Studio 69” started circulating on social networks.
The poster depicting two cultural figures of the 19th century kissing – Russian poet Alexander Pushkin and Kazakh composer Kurmangazy Satyrbaiuly, chosen because the club is located at the intersection of the streets carrying their names – like all effective advertising received attention of the nation.
But now the ads agency probably believes it should have never produced the poster. Havas Worldwide Kazakhstan was ordered to pay 34 million tenge, or $188,000, in damages to the Almaty-base Conservatory of Music.
Why conservatory, you will ask. The answer is, only because it is named after Kurmangazy.
Why 34 members of the conservatory, you will ask. Well, since there are hundreds of teaches and students in the conservatory, the ads agency should consider itself lucking there had not been more that 34 plaintiffs under the circumstances.
The question of what 11 teachers, 13 students and 10 musicians of the orchestra of the Conservatory have to do with Kurmangazy himself does not appear to be a question the judge Talgat Sadykov of Almaly District Court №2 of Almaty pondered upon.
He ordered the agency to pay 1 million tenge ($5,500) to each of the music professionals and students, who claimed their pride had been hurt by the poster.
And to relieve this offense, the judge also ordered Havas Worldwide Kazakhstan to apologize for their actions in the national media to each of the 34 plaintiffs. The court ruled to arrest the property of the advertising agency until the court’s judgment is complied with.
Head of the agency Daria Khamitzhanova said she would appeal the court’s decision. Her company is simply unable to pay the ordered sum. But what can be done really?
“To be honest I’m simply shocked. It is a completely outrageous sum. I don’t know how the court that hasn’t even seen any of those 34 plaintiffs had enough folly to order us to pay a million to each of them! I am sorry, it’s just so hard to speak. Because I didn’t expect such an outcome for sure! And I think this is completely unfair. These 34 million will make us bankrupt,” Khamitzhanova lamented.
This is the third court she and her company has lost in the past two weeks. Specialized Interdistrict Administrative Court of Almaty has already found the creators of the scandalous gay smooch ad guilty of violating the generally accepted standards of morality and behaviour of the Kazakh society because it was depicting unconventional sexual relations. The agency and CEO were ordered to pay two separate fines totaling $1,734. Havas Worldwide and Daria Khamitzhanova appealed the decision but lost.
Thereafter, 34 teachers and students of the Conservatory filed a lawsuit claiming moral damage in the amount of 1 million tenge each.
During the hearings, the court had repeatedly tried to clarify the amount of damages the plaintiffs were claiming and eventually the plaintiffs’ representative asked the judge to make his own evaluation of the non-pecuniary damage. The judge left the sum unchanged.
To give the idea of how inappropriately large the sum of 34 million tenge is, suffice is presenting previous court rulings on moral damages in a high profile case:
Parents of 150 small children who were infected with HIV during blood transfusion in a hospital in southern Kazakhstan's Shymkent city in 2006 got 50-100 thousand tenge in moral damages each.
“How can we continue working? Now that the court has immediately arrested all our property. These people [conservatory teachers and students], they haven’t earned this money and they don’t deserve it, they didn’t even appear in court once. And now we have to publically apologize to each of these 34 people?! I just don’t know,” Khamitzhanova said after the sentence was pronounced.
She said she would file an appeal and hopefully the ruling will be overturned. As for the public sentiment - it has made itself clear: a poster depicting two men kissing is not welcome in Kazakhstan.
By Dinara Urazova (Dmitry Khegai contributed to the story)