Latvian authorities should investigate and prosecute those responsible for the attacks on peaceful lesbian and gay pride activists in Riga on July 22, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis. Latvia must also adhere to its human rights obligations as a member of the European Union and the Council of Europe, and permit and protect future gay pride activities.
On July 21, the Administrative Court of Latvia upheld a Riga City Council decision denying an application by several lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organizations for “Riga Pride 2006,” scheduled to take place on July 22. Other events held on July 22, as alternative celebrations to the banned march, were targeted by crowds of anti-gay protesters who pelted participants and LGBT activists with eggs, rotten food, and human excrement.
“By banning the pride parade Latvian authorities bowed to the intolerance they should be preventing,” said Jessica Stern, researcher in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “When officials deny rights on discriminatory grounds, they encourage division and violence.”
At one of the alternative events attended by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Latvians, a service held in the Anglican Church in Riga on July 22, anti-gay protesters gathered outside. When participants exited the church service, anti-gay protesters began verbally abusing them and pelted them with excrement and other projectiles. The few police who were there reportedly refused requests from some of the participants for protection as they left the church under attack from the mob.
Later that day, lesbians, gays, and their supporters – including clergy, a member of the European Parliament, and members of national parliaments from several European countries – held a meeting and news conference at the Reval Hotel Latvija. Dozens of anti-gay demonstrators again gathered outside the main entrance, pelting LGBT community members and supporters as they left the hotel, and nearly running a taxi carrying LGBT people off the road. Police presence at both locations was inadequate to ensure the safety of the LGBT community, although the police have apparently advised journalists that 14 persons were arrested in connection with the events.
In 2005, the Riga City Council also denied a permit for a gay pride march that was to be the first in Latvian history. Andris Grinbergs, city council deputy executive director, recently explained that, “Last year, we banned the march because of moral values.” Latvia’s administrative court overturned the ruling and permitted the march to take place, and approximately 100 lesbians, gays and supporters gathered in the city center for the march. During last year’s march, several LGBT persons were subjected to physical and verbal abuse by crowds of counter-demonstrators.
This year, both the court and the city council said their decisions were based on claims that the parade posed a serious threat to national security. Much of the information which is said to have been the basis for the decisions has been classified as a state secret, keeping it out of the public domain for the next five years and ensuring that the claims of a threat cannot be scrutinized.
“Officials can’t hide blatant discrimination behind claims of ‘state secrecy,’” said Stern. “The mix of intolerance on the streets and silence in the halls of power threatens not just security, but democracy.”