Moscow authorities must investigate two incidents where protestors threatened and attacked people entering and leaving gay-friendly bars, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Mayor Yuri Luzhkov.

These assaults on freedoms of association and assembly underscore the need for Mayor Luzhkov to end a threatened ban on Russia’s first planned gay pride parade, scheduled for May 27.

“As Moscow’s gays and lesbians prepare for their first gay pride parade, Mayor Luzhkov faces a choice,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “He can stand up to protect human rights, or endorse the views of extremists responsible for anti-gay violence.”

On the night of April 30, several hundred protesters – including skinheads, nationalists and religious protesters – massed in front of the Renaissance Event Club on Ordzhonikidze Street in Moscow, where organizers had advertised an “Open Party” for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Many of the protestors shouted threats – including “No perverts here” – and threw bottles, rocks and eggs. They reportedly beat at least one person attempting to attend the party. Police arrived, but only gradually. When the club had to be evacuated, people leaving the building were hit by stones and other objects.

The following night, at least 100 protesters targeted another gay club in Moscow, shouting abuse and smashing the windows of nearby cars. Police arrested 39 protesters, charging most with minor offenses against public order.

On February 27, Human Rights Watch wrote to Mayor Luzhkov, calling on him to end threats to ban the first-ever Russian gay pride event, planned for May 27 in Moscow. The mayor’s spokesman, Sergey Tsoy, had 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.”

National politicians also condemned the proposed parade. 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?”

In a response to Human Rights Watch’s letter, sent on April 12, mayoral spokesman P.V. Saprykin wrote that “both in the Russian Federation and in Moscow discrimination of persons on any grounds, including sexual ones, is prohibited. Human rights are enshrined in legislation and may not be questioned.” However, he stated, “The motivated decision to deny the initiators [of the pride event] permission... has been taken based on historically determined traditions,” as well as “the point of view on the issue of the overwhelming majority of Muscovites and residents of Russia.”

“Governments cannot deny human rights on the basis of opinion polls,” said Long. “Mayor Luzhov should not allow anti-gay violence and discrimination to trump people’s fundamental rights.”