Friday
June 8, 2007
SGN.org
Volume 35
Issue 23
 
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Religious Coalition for Equality seeks Executive Director
 
Russia with hate - Observations on Moscow Gay pride
Russia with hate - Observations on Moscow Gay pride
by Peter Tatchell - Special to the SGN On Sunday 27 May, in Moscow, I witnessed the latest assault on human rights in Russia. A tiny, peaceful Gay Pride march, which threatened no one, was banned on the diktat of Moscow's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov. At the same time, President Putin effectively banned Gay Pride organisers from holding a rally in a park near the Kremlin, having ignored their request for permission. Russian law guarantees the right to protest.

Not a single politician from Russia's liberal, democratic or left parties condemned this suppression of freedom of expression and assembly. Cowardly and bigoted, they all oppose Gay human rights. It is a damning indictment of Russia's flawed transition to democracy.

The Gay Pride organisers went ahead anyway. Nearly 40 of us - mostly Russians and a few international observers - gathered outside Moscow's City Hall. When we attempted to deliver a letter of protest to the mayor, we were surrounded by police. First, they arrested Nikolai Alekseev, the organiser of Moscow Gay Pride and German Green MP, Volker Beck. Then they tried to arrest everyone else. Most of us got away. The frustrated officers withdrew and, as if by signal, gangs of fascist and nationalist thugs appeared from nowhere and began assaulting us. The police gave them free reign.

To escape this violence, we fled across the road but were pursued by right-wing extremists and police. They were joined by hordes of Russian Orthodox fundamentalists, openly urging that "sodomites should be killed". The riot squad, OMOH (to give it its amusing cyrillic acronym), made no effort to protect us.

After being punched by a group of neo-Nazis, I decided to move further up the street. When I unfurled a placard reading, "Gay Rights", written in Russian and English, I was set upon by the right-wing extremists. The OMOH stood by as I was punched in the face, dragged to the ground and kicked all over my body. Suffering from concussion and nursing a bloody eye, I was arrested while my attackers walked free.

The OMOH officers forced me to sit with three detained neo-Nazis, arrested for earlier assaults, and addressed me as a "faggot". One officer warned: "Wait until we get you to the police station. Then we will have some fun with you." For more than two hours I was denied medical treatment for my bloody and bruised eye.

I let it be known that I am the Green Party's national human-rights spokesperson and a parliamentary candidate for Oxford East. Soon after, a senior officer was overheard exclaiming: "We might have made a mistake arresting this one. It could land us in big trouble with the British."

Fat chance! But fortunately, it worried the police, who suddenly began to be concerned. They took a statement about the assault I had suffered and called an ambulance. Later I was escorted to a central Moscow police station, not as a suspect but as a witness. Eventually, they agreed to open a criminal investigation into the violence against me. I have no expectation of anyone being charged, let alone convicted.

From the outset it was obvious that the police were colluding with the fascistic thugs; I saw officers openly fraternising with them. And though many of us were bashed, only a handful of assailants were arrested. Most of those were quickly released without charge - long before the Gay Pride marchers were allowed to leave.

The protest was about more than Gay rights. It had wider significance. We were defending the right to freedom of expression and peaceful protest for all Russians, Gay and straight.

The attack on Moscow Gay Pride is just one aspect of a wider attack on human rights in Russia, including the suppression of environmental campaigners and Chechen peace activists. It was also evidence of the growing trend towards autocracy and authoritarianism.

Peter Tatchell's campaigns promoting human rights, democracy and global justice depends on donations. For more information visit, http://www.tatchellrightsfund.org. Originally published in the June 4, 2007 of the New Statesman.



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