Freedoms of Assembly and Expression Must Be Protected
June 2, 2006
Instead of leading Muscovites to embrace equality, Mayor Luzhkov supported and promoted homophobia. Given this failure of leadership, the violent ending should surprise no one.
Scott Long Director Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program

Russian authorities must launch a full investigation into the violent attacks on peaceful gay pride activists in Moscow on May 27 and prosecute those responsible, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper released today. The investigation must also encompass the police response to the attacks. Human Rights Watch called on the authorities to drop charges against participants in pride events for taking part in “an unsanctioned demonstration.”

Human Rights Watch documented the violence in a briefing paper released today, and called on Russian officials to fulfill their obligation to protect human rights by refraining from homophobic rhetoric and ensuring that freedoms of expression and assembly are upheld.

“Victims of prejudice and violence deserve full justice,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, who witnessed the events in Moscow first-hand. “The authorities in Moscow have endorsed discrimination and fostered an environment that allowed hatred to rise. Now they must investigate these attacks, and ensure that civil liberties and personal security are not hostage to homophobia.”

On May 27, several dozen Russian lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, accompanied by Russian and foreign supporters, sought to hold two successive protest rallies, one to lay flowers on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin Wall, and the second a vigil at City Hall in support of freedoms of assembly and expression. Organizers of Moscow’s lesbian and gay pride festival decided to hold these events after a court upheld Mayor Yuri Luzkhov’s ban on a pride march planned for that day.

At the sites of both events, hundreds of anti-gay protesters, including skinheads, nationalists, and Orthodox followers, attacked the participants, beating and kicking many, while throwing projectiles and chanting, “Russia free of faggots! Death to sodomites!”

Skinheads punched Volker Beck, a gay member of the German parliament, and struck him with a rock, injuring his eye. Police briefly detained Beck. Others detained included parade organizers Nikolai Alexeyev and Yevgenia Debrianskaia.

“At both sites police at first seemed to allow the skinheads and others free rein to assault lesbians and gays,” said Long. “When police finally intervened, they forced the two groups closer together, aggravating the violence. They failed totally to protect people peacefully trying to exercise their rights.”

On May 18, Luzhkov formally banned a proposed pride parade. Days before the planned event, he stated: “If any one has any deviations from normal principles in organizing one’s sexual life, those deviations should not be exhibited for all to see.”

“Instead of leading Muscovites to embrace equality, Mayor Luzhkov supported and promoted homophobia,” said Long. “Given this failure of leadership, the violent ending should surprise no one.”

Internal documents from the mayor’s office seen by Human Rights Watch indicate the office sponsored a sustained campaign against measures in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons. In one document, dated March 2006, Luzhkov advised subordinates that: “It is necessary to take concrete measures to prevent holding public and mass gay events in the capital.” He instructed them to: “Organize an active campaign in the mass media... using appeals from citizens and religious and public organizations.”

In another March memorandum, deputy mayor Liudmila Shvetsova told the mayor, “A law can be promulgated to limit the rights or freedoms of [gay or lesbian] people.” She urged that “the competent executive bodies... identify concrete measures for banning any actions, including public ones, involving propaganda and holding gay festivals or gay parades.”

Several people in addition to Volker Beck were brutally beaten by anti-gay extremists on May 27. Pierre Serne, a French activist, was physically attacked twice and suffered injuries to his eye, shoulders, back, arm, and leg. Kurt Krickler, an Austrian activist, was beaten by skinheads on the street.

At least six lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activists and their supporters were arrested and charged with organizing or participating in an “unsanctioned demonstration.” All are believed to have been freed the same evening and may face fines for their alleged offences. Several dozen anti-gay protestors were also detained and later released, most also facing similar charges relating to participation in unsanctioned demonstrations.