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(Kiev) – The Ukrainian authorities should investigate violence and threats against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights activists in connection with the Equality March in Kiev on May 25, 2013.

“Kiev’s first LGBT Pride Equality March was held peacefully, largely due to effective policing by Ukrainian authorities,” said Anna Kirey, LGBT fellow on Ukraine at Human Rights Watch, who monitored the march. “But that didn’t stop the messengers of hatred. The authorities need to investigate serious threats and protect LGBT activists and their supporters from attacks.”

In the weeks before the Equality March, various groups threatened violence against march participants and called for city authorities to ban the march. The authorities denied a request from the march organizers to hold the demonstration in central Kiev, but allowed the event to take place seven kilometers outside of the city center.

During the march, more than 500 police protected approximately 50 marchers against counter-demonstrators, who shouted homophobic slurs and attempted to take away participants’ posters. No one was injured.

Police arrested 21 counter-demonstrators, charged 12 with hooliganism, and issued warnings to the others.

But at about 9 p.m. on the evening of the march, two people attacked an LGBT activist, Olena Shevchenko, and her friend outside a club in central Kiev, throwing sour cream over them. Shevchenko recognized one of her attackers as a member of the ultra-right Svoboda political party whom she first encountered during a public demonstration in support of LGBT rights on December 8, 2012. The same Svoboda party member was attacking demonstrators during that event. Shevchenko told Human Rights Watch she would file a complaint with the police.

Unidentified people also posted photographs of several Equality March organizers and human rights activists who support LGBT rights on social networking sites, accompanied by calls for violence against them. One of the organizers received threatening text messages from an unidentified sender, including one that read, “If I see you in Kiev, I will beat you with a bat. [Signed] Hitler.” 

Protests against the Equality March were held in Kiev and in Luhansk, Mykolayiv, Symferopil, and Zaporizzhya in the weeks before the march. The day after one such protest in Mykolayiv, a group of unidentified men went to the home of a gay man involved with a local LGBT organization, shouted homophobic slurs at him, punched and kicked him, and threatened to kill him if he reported the incident to the police. The police arrived quickly after the attack and immediately opened an investigation.

“The safe passage of the Equality March is a notable step, but the authorities have a long way to go to ensure that LGBT people enjoy equal rights every hour of every day, and not only at high-profile events,” said Evelyne Paradis, executive director of ILGA-Europe. “If Ukraine truly wants to be an equal member of a European family, the government needs to step up its efforts to protect its vulnerable citizens from discrimination and guarantee their basic political and civil rights.”  

In 2012, three Kiev Pride March organizers were attacked within a month after cancelling the march due to security concerns. Police investigations into the attacks did not result in any prosecutions, even though witnesses provided photo and video documentation of the attack against one of the organizers, Svyatoslav Sheremet.

Two “homosexual propaganda” laws are pending in the Ukrainian parliament. One of these laws, if passed, would limit any positive dissemination of information about homosexuality, including information on events similar to the Equality March.The Ukrainian parliament should reject the laws, and President Viktor Yanukovich should veto these laws if parliament approves them, Human Rights Watch and ILGA-Europe said. 

On May 14, Parliament shelved a vote on amendments to the Labor Code that would have broadened the legislation to include “sexual orientation” as a protected ground, following opposition by the Svoboda party and other groups.

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