(Moscow) – Russian authorities should promptly and effectively investigate a violent attack on a gay-friendly club in Moscow on October 11, 2012, Human Rights Watch said today. The attack took place several days after People’s Council, a nationalist organization, said publicly that homosexuality is “a grave sin” and that it would try to close down gay clubs.
Soon after 9 p.m. on October 11, between 15 and 20 black-clad men wearing surgical masks ran into the 7FreeDays Club, which was hosting a party organized by gay activists in celebration of National Coming Out Day. The attackers rampaged through the bar, throwing chairs and bottles at guests and staff, kicking people, and destroying property. The attacks took place in the context of a sinister legislative trend in which many Russian regions are passing laws to ban “homosexual propaganda.”
“Russia’s leadership has stood by as regions have adopted blatantly homophobic laws,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These laws cannot but encourage attacks like the one last night.”
An ambulance worker at the scene told a correspondent for the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta that four people had head injuries and that two of them had to be hospitalized. Several others had bruises and other minor injuries.
Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that about 70 people were at the party when the attackers arrived. The witnesses said that the attackers had at least two guns, which may have been stun guns, and mace. They rushed into the premises screaming, “You wanted a pogrom? You wanted a flight? You got it!” and proceeded to destroy the club. They held the bartender at gunpoint, forced her face down on the floor, and started smashing the bar, breaking bottles and glasses over her head. They also smashed plates and glasses, overturned tables, and threw chairs and other objects directly at the guests.
The three witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that most injuries were caused by flying furniture and other objects. The attackers, who wore heavy boots, also kicked people, some in the head. One young woman’s eyeglasses were broken by a flying object, and shreds of glass got into her eye. The ambulance workers, who arrived at the club shortly after the attack, provided medical assistance to several people and took two people with head injuries to the hospital.
An activist who was at the club during the attack told Human Rights Watch that although there is a police station close to the club, it took the police half an hour to arrive after they were called.
“The authorities need to send an unambiguous signal that homophobia will not be tolerated, and the first step should be to investigate and prosecute the attackers,” Williamson said. “The second step should be to annul the homophobic laws. They are discriminatory, they violate Russia’s international obligations, and they have no place in a society that upholds the rule of law.”
People’s Council and several other conservative groups have called on the Moscow city council to adopt a law banning “homosexual propaganda.” Such a law has already been submitted to Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma. Legislatures in nine Russian regions have adopted these laws, and similar measures are pending in another seven. The laws use the pretext of protecting children from pedophilia and “immoral behavior.” The propaganda bans are so vague and broad that they could be applied to anyone displaying a rainbow flag, wearing a T-shirt with a gay-friendly logo, or holding a gay-friendly-themed rally.
Russia is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which impose obligations on countries to protect the right of individuals not to be discriminated against, and the rights to freedom of assembly, association, and expression. Russia also supported March 2010 recommendations from the Committee of Ministers in the Council of Europe to end discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. The recommendations include provisions to safeguard freedom of assembly and expression without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The European Court of Human Rights has firmly rejected an argument by the Russian government that there is no general consensus on issues relating to the treatment of “sexual minorities.” In a case against Russia for failing to uphold the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community to peaceful assembly and expression, the court affirmed that there is “no ambiguity” about “the right of individuals to openly identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or any other sexual minority, and to promote their rights and freedoms, in particular by exercising their freedom of peaceful assembly.”
In September, Russia sponsored a resolution on “traditional values” at the United Nations Human Rights Council that threatens the rights of LGBT people and women in particular. It passed on September 27. The resolution contravenes the central principles of the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch said.
“It’s bad enough that the Russian government is not stopping discrimination against LGBT people in Russia,” Williamson said. “It’s particularly disturbing that the government is essentially promoting a position that will be used to silence LGBT people and groups around the world. Russia should strengthen, not undo, protection for universal rights.”