The rise of homophobia and an increase in the number of assaults on representatives of sexual minorities

Press release
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The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) strongly condemns the homophobic acts perpetrated in Russia since late April 2006. On 30 April and 1 May 2006, individuals of non-heterosexual orientations were assaulted outside nightclubs by groups of skinheads and neo-nationalists, even though special forces (OMON) were deployed on the scene.

The recent violence started on 27 May 2006 during a peaceful gathering for the recognition of the rights of sexual-orientation minorities. The event was organised in reaction to the Moscow authorities’ announcement on 18 May 2006 banning the Gay Pride March, scheduled for 27 May 2006. The authorities claimed that the parade would provoke “indignation in society, particularly among religious activists”. They also claimed to be unable to provide security for the parade-goers and that the parade would block traffic. However, according to the provisions of the Federal Law on Rallies, Meetings, Demonstrations, Processions and Pickets, no authorisation is required to hold a demonstration. Notification is sufficient, and the authorities are only entitled to propose a change in the time or route to the organisers. Notwithstanding, the Mayor’s Office banned the Gay Pride event, without making any proposal as to the time or route. An appeal against the ban was filed with the Tverskoy District Court, which dismissed the appeal on 26 May 2006.

Following the ban, a peaceful event was organised on 27 May 2006, which was intended to take place in two stages: first, participants would lay flowers on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (a monument to the victims of fascism) in Alexandrovsky Park beside the Kremlin Wall, and later gather outside the Moscow Mayor’s Office to call for freedom of expression and assembly. However, in both places, the demonstrators were violently attacked by skinheads, neo-nationalists and ultra-religious groups while the police remained indifferent and passive, indeed with an almost condescending attitude towards the demonstrators. The demonstrators were prevented from approaching the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and from speaking publicly in front of the Moscow Mayor’s Office. Several of them were beaten, including the German Green Party MP, Volker Beck, and the co-chairman of French gay rights organisation Inter-LGBT, Pierre Serne.

According to local NGOs, the police arrested more than 120 demonstrators and acted in a violent and insulting manner towards them. Alexei Kozlov and Dmitri Makarov, representatives of the Green Alternative Civil Union who came out to support the action, were taken to the police station. Nikolai Alexeyev, organiser of the demonstration, and Yevgenia Debryanskaya, head of the Libertarian Party and the Sexual Minorities Association, were also arrested and are facing prosecution.

This serious violation of the freedom to hold demonstrations is part of a climate of violence and discrimination that has been particularly visible in the past month. In an internal document circulated in March 2006 (and cited by Human Rights Watch), Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, called for concrete measures to prevent the gay rights event. He also asked for a media campaign to be organised against the march, following appeals from citizens and representatives of religious communities.

In a press release dated 30 May 2006, the SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis reported a series of assaults committed against individuals of non-heterosexual orientation by groups of skinheads and opponents of gay pride in different areas of Moscow on 27 and 28 May 2006. According to SOVA, the assaults were extremely violent and accompanied by homophobic language. For example, on 27 May 2006, Barbara Strange, a transsexual, was assaulted by a young man as she entered a Moscow nightclub. Knocked to the ground, she was repeatedly kicked. As a result of the assault, she suffered fractures and a concussion and required hospitalisation. On the same day, two young men were assaulted on their way home from work by militant nationalists. One of the two was hospitalised. Two young women were also assaulted near Mayakovskaya metro station by five or six skinheads. One fell down the stairs, and the other was hit over the head and lost consciousness. In total, according to SOVA and the information agency LINA, more than 50 people were victims of violent assaults in those two days. Many more of the victims were too afraid to go to the hospital or the police.

FIDH reminds the Russian Federation, which recently assumed the chairmanship of the Council of Europe and won a seat on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, that it is bound, in particular by Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights and its supplementary Protocol 12, to protect every individual against acts of discrimination and to respect freedom of assembly and association under Article 11.

FIDH also recalls that the right of association and assembly and the right to hold demonstrations are guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation and by the international conventions to which Russia is a party.

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