British activist Peter Tatchell and Right Said Fred singer Richard Fairbrass were assaulted on camera as a gay rights march in Moscow turned violent on Sunday. Tatchell and Fairbrass were both then arrested, along with Italian MEP Marco Cappato, German MP Volker Beck (who was assaulted at last year’s rally), the leader of GayRussia, Nikolai Alexeyev, and dozens of other activists.
Thirty people were detained in all at what began as a peaceful demonstration meant to mark the 14th anniversary of the decriminilization of homosexuality in Russia. One of the organizers’ goals was to deliver a document to the mayor’s office signed by over 40 members of the European Parliament protesting Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s decision to ban the march. In January, Luzhkov branded the march “satanic”.
As soon as the demonstration began, a group of attackers, made up of ultra-nationalists and members of the ultra-Orthodox Russian church, set angrily upon the group.
According to Deutsche-Welle: “Dozens of Russian right-wing extremists converged on the group, shouting insults like ‘fags,’ ‘perverts’ and ‘death to homosexuals,’ throwing eggs and punching and kicking gay demonstrators in front of riot police who intervened much later.”
The attackers walked free, according to Tatchell, although other outlets reported “the police…systematically arrested both the attackers and the assaulted.”
Tatchell later said: “The Moscow police gave right-wing extremists a more or less free hand to attack Gay Pride marchers. Despite many of us being battered left, right and centre, the police only arrested a handful of the assailants. I urge people to protest to the Russian Ambassador and to ask their local MPs to send a letter of protest to the Russian embassy.”
Transgender Italian politician Vladimir Luxuria said she tried to protect Alexeyev, according to the Moscow Times: “I tried to protect him, but I was roughly shoved away. After that someone started throwing eggs. They said, ‘Moscow is not Sodom.’ I then saw someone with a knife, and people started to throw stones at us.”
Tatchell told Sky News: “We were violently assaulted – I was battered in the face and the eye, and knocked to the ground, kicked and beaten. The Moscow police, astonishingly, arrested me and let my attackers walk free.” He told the Guardian that those arrested were taunted by police: “When we were in the police van the police taunted us. They said, ‘Are you a member of the sexual minority?’ We said yes. They said, ‘We are going to have some fun with you at the police station.’ What happened here shows the flawed and failed nature of Russia’s transition to democracy. There is no right to protest in Moscow.”
Said Fairbrass: “We’ve never travelled with security in Moscow, Latvia, any of the old eastern bloc countries, but I have to say I wouldn’t… travel now without having our own security guys with us, no. When it was over I actually felt more sorry for the guy that whacked me than I did for me… How threatened can he be, how insecure is he to be threatened by a bisexual pop singer who’s most famous for singing ‘I’m too sexy’?”
Deputy head of the city administration press service Mikhail Solomentsev painted an altogether different picture, praising the city’s police force: “We must point to the clear, coordinated and polite actions of the police that acted strictly in the framework of law…The attempted attack on gay activists once again proves that the city authorities had done right by prohibiting the parade and thus preventing bad clashes between the opponents who are numerous in this country and advocates of sexual minorities.”
Alekeyev and two other organizers of the march – dubbed the “Moscow Gay Pride Three” were detained overnight Sunday awaiting a court hearing and sources close to them told UK Gay News that they feared he may be sent to prison: “We really fear that Nikolai Alekseev will be sent to prison for 15 days as the ‘figurehead’ of the Gay Pride organising team…Unofficially, we received confirmation that this is what the General Prosecutor already asked. We are not very optimistic about the result of the court hearing. We can say that all three have been provided with legal assistance.”
The sources allege: “[It is] becoming very clear that orders are being given to court and militia directly from [the] Kremlin.”
Alexeyev and the two other activists were released on Monday but must return to court on June 9 on charges they organized an illegal demonstration.
Alexeyev was defiant upon release, announcing plans to hold a parade next year in Moscow on May 31, 2008. He also said he intended to run for office: “I am planning to run for the Duma in December. This can fundamentally change the circumstances in holding the next parade.”
The British Green Party has called for a European travel ban to be placed on Moscow Mayor Luzhkov. Said Green Party principal speaker Dr. Derek Wall:” This type of police action simply confirms that human rights are not respected in President Putin’s Russia. Russia, as a member of the Council of Europe and a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, has a responsibility to allow its citizens the right to peaceful protest. In this case, EU countries should impose a travel ban on Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, just as they did on Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko because of his appalling human right record. The EU is a force for anti-discrimination, and Green MEPs have been at the forefront of promoting new policies to ensure equal employment and partnership rights across the EU. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population deserves political allies who will work with us to benefit our community.”
London Mayor Ken Livingstone wrote a letter to Luzhkov condemning the incident. Livingstone: “I am writing to convey my deep concern at the reported physical violence against, and arrest of, Peter Tatchell, a Parliamentary candidate for the Green Party in Britain, and other supporters of lesbian and gay rights, during their participation in an event in Moscow seeking to present a petition to you to lift a ban on the Gay Pride parade in Moscow. I have known Peter Tatchell for many years and know him to be a person committed exclusively to peaceful political activity. I would urge you to use your good offices to seek the lifting of all charges against Mr Tatchell and his fellow demonstrators. I would also urge you to resolve the root cause of this protest by lifting the ban on the Gay Pride parade in Moscow in line with the practice of most cities throughout the world.”