Gay rights activists take part in a protest event called the March against Hatred in St. Petersburg on Nov. 2, 2014. (Alexander Demianchuk/Reuters)

A European court on Tuesday declared a Russian law banning expressions of “gay propaganda” to be discriminatory, ordering Moscow to pay out compensation to three gay rights activists and setting the stage for further conflicts with Europe over Russia’s treatment of gays and lesbians. 

In a statement, the European Court of Human Rights said that Russia’s adoption of the 2013 law “had reinforced stigma and prejudice and encouraged homophobia, which was incompatible with the values of a democratic society.”

 The law, according to the court, violated articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, of which Russia is a signatory, providing for freedom of expression and a prohibition on discrimination.

 The ruling comes just weeks after French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel separately pushed Russian President Vladimir Putin on numerous reports about the abductions of as many as 100 Chechens suspected of being gay. Three were reportedly murdered, and dozens more allegedly tortured in several secret prisons in Chechnya. Many have fled the Russian region to other parts of the country or for asylum abroad. 

 Russian officials in May said they would review the reports. In Chechnya, Moscow has empowered strongman Ramzan Kadyrov to carry out a conservative agenda by diktat. Kadyrov has disputed the claims, saying that there are no gay people in Chechnya.

 The Russian Justice Ministry on Tuesday retorted that the “anti-gay propaganda” laws “have the sole purpose of protecting morals and health of children.” 

 The controversy over the persecution of gay people, and an increasingly conservative society under Putin that has emphasized the role of the Orthodox Church, has been an issue in Russia for years. Putin’s macho image has been part of his public persona since he first became president in 2000. In a recent series of softball interviews with movie director Oliver Stone, Putin was asked whether he would take a shower on a submarine next to a gay man. 

 “Well, I prefer not to go to the shower with him,” he said in the interview, laughing. “Why provoke him? But you know, I’m a judo master.” 

 The three activists who brought the case to the court in Strasbourg, France, had staged protests against versions of the “anti-gay propaganda law” between 2009 and 2012, only to be arrested and then fined for those demonstrations.

 Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993.