Seventy-three people have been prosecuted for violating new anti-gay legislation imposed in Russia's former imperial city Saint Petersburg four months ago, police said Friday.

The law which punishes public homosexual and paedophile "propaganda" with fines of up to 500,000 rubles (12,800 euros/$15,600) has been criticised by human rights activists as homophobic.

"Seventy-three people have been prosecuted for homosexual propaganda and one person for paedophile propaganda," Saint Petersburg police chief Sergei Umnov was quoted as saying by his press service.

No details were given on the offences or the sentences imposed.

The law was promoted by the ruling United Russia party and adopted by Saint Petersburg's city assembly in February.

When asked to comment on the new law the same month the US State Department said the United States was concerned by legislation that "would severely restrict freedoms of expression and assembly for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, and indeed all Russians".

The Russian foreign ministry's representative for human rights, Konstantin Dolgov, earlier dismissed as "inappropriate" comments by the State Department made in November that it was "deeply concerned" by the bill.

Russia legalised homosexuality in 1993 after the fall of the Soviet Union but only ceased to class it as a mental disorder in 1999, and homophobic attitudes are still widespread.

Police have roughly broken up attempts to hold gay pride events in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The authorities regularly refuse to sanction such protests, citing the public's negative attitude.

AFP Photo/Kirill Kudryavtsev