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Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s promise to ban the city’s first-ever gay pride parade is a threat to civil liberties and civil society, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the mayor.

Human Rights Watch called on Mayor Lukzhov to let the parade proceed as scheduled on May 27.

“Mayor Luzhkov is giving prejudice a veto over the rights to peaceful expression and assembly,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “The freedom to speak out and demonstrate publicly is not just a reflection of diversity. It is essential to democracy.”

Organizers have been planning a parade of over 5,000 participants for several months. However, the mayor’s spokesman, Sergey Tsoy, told reporters on February 16 that, “The Moscow government is not even going to consider allowing a gay parade.” He claimed that the proposed event has “evoked outrage in society, in particular among religious leaders.”

Tsoy said the mayor “was firm that the city government will not allow a gay parade in any form, open or disguised, and any attempts to organize an unsanctioned action will be resolutely quashed.”

National politicians stepped in to condemn the parade. “Some say that the ban on the gay parade does not correspond to human rights,” Lubov Sliska, the first vice-speaker of the State Duma, said. “There are several million people in Moscow who do not want homosexuals to have this procession. Who is going to protect their rights?”

The move comes in the wake of actions by other governments in the region against the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Last year in Poland, city authorities banned gay and lesbian pride marches in Warsaw and Krakow. In Latvia, authorities sought to ban a parade in Riga, but the ban was overturned by court order.

In response, the European Parliament in January overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning prohibitions on the marches, as well as “incitement to hatred and violence.”

“Human rights are not a popularity contest,” said Long. “Letting this march proceed is an international obligation. If prejudice is allowed to trump the rights that all citizens should enjoy, then everyone’s freedoms are ultimately endangered.”

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