May 17, 2011
Human Rights First Condemns Decision to Ban Moscow Gay Pride
New York, NY—Human Rights First condemns the decision by the Moscow authorities—issued on the International Day Against Homophobia—to deny permission for a Moscow gay pride event. This is the sixth consecutive year that the Moscow City Hall has banned such an event. City officials cited numerous letters from public officials, religious organizations and private citizens urging the authorities to prohibit a demonstration. Similar bans were pronounced illegal by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in October 2010. “We deeply regret the missed opportunity of the new Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin to break with the discriminatory policies of his predecessor in this regard,” said Human Rights First’s Paul LeGendre. “Gay rights are human rights in Russia, just as they are in the rest of the world. We call on the Moscow City Hall to reconsider the latest ban on Moscow Pride in line with the recent European Court of Human Rights verdict that upheld the right of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Russians to organize public events in accordance to the Russian Constitution.” Gay pride parades offer an opportunity for LGBT individuals to exercise the right to freedom of expression. Gay pride parades have come to symbolize the resistance to intolerance and bigotry that surround LGBT people in their daily lives. Moscow Pride has never been officially permitted by the authorities in Moscow, where the city’s longtime mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, used hateful populist rhetoric against the country’s LGBT citizens—whose lifestyles he called “satanic”— and banned gay pride events from 2006-2010. In October 2010, the European Court of Human Rights issued a verdict affirming that the 164 bans on gay pride marches and events between 2006 and 2008 were in violation of the constitutionally protected right to freedom of assembly. In April 2011, the ECHR decision in Alekseyev v. Russia came into force after the Russian government lost its appeal in Strasbourg. Upon taking office, new Mayor Sergey Sobyanin vowed to uphold the rule of law and has since approved several public events organized by opposition and human rights activists that had also been banned during Luzhkov’s tenure. “Although Mr. Sobyanin had already indicated his personal opposition to Moscow Pride, dismissing the concerns of LGBT activists, the mayor had not until today gone as far as indicating that his administration would seek to ban requests for gay pride events.” said LeGendre. A Brief History of Moscow Pride: 2006-2010 Efforts to organize a gay pride parade in Moscow have been marred since 2006 by hostility from the city authorities, denunciations by community leaders, violent protests and poor police protection. The first municipal ban was issued in 2006, prompting LGBT activists to organize a several-dozen strong protest rally that was violently attacked by skinheads. The crowds dispersed after police intervened, though no attackers were arrested. In 2007, the pride organizers were immediately arrested as they entered Tverskaya Square around city hall, which was by then occupied by both police and nationalist extremists yelling homophobic slogans. Even as the organizers were being arrested, protesters attacked other participants while the police reportedly stood by. In 2008, the official demonstration planned in front of the city hall was cancelled due to security concerns. Nevertheless, a group of about thirty demonstrators gathered in another location—in front of a monument to Tchaikovsky—where they held a brief picket for LGBT rights before quickly dispersing. In 2009 and 2010, after being denied permission a fourth and a fifth time, the activists organized several creative demonstrations in place of an official pride march. The principal organizers were briefly detained in 2009, and no arrests or violence occurred during the 2010 flashmob during which activists marched down a downtown street carrying an enormous rainbow flag and sign calling for equality and nondiscrimination.