In a historic ruling today in the case of Nikolai Alexeev v. Russia, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia violated the European Convention on Human Rights with the banning of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 Moscow Prides. The court awarded 12,000 euros in damages to Moscow gay rights advocate and Pride organizer Nikolai Alexeev and a further 17,500 euros in costs.
Alexeev told Moscow News, “This is the first ever decision of the European Court of Human Rights which concerns freedom of assembly in Russia. It guarantees everyone freedom of expression without special permission.”
In a statement released earlier this morning, Alexeev hailed today’s verdict as cause for celebration. “We declare October 21, the Russian LGBT Liberation Day and we will celebrate it every year from now on with public demonstrations,” he said.
The European Court ruled that Russian authorities violated three specific articles of the European Convention, namely Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association), Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination). Of the last violation, the court wrote:
It has been established above that the main reason for the ban imposed on the events organised by the applicant was the authorities’ disapproval of demonstrations which they considered to promote homosexuality. In particular, the Court cannot disregard the strong personal opinions publicly expressed by the mayor of Moscow and the undeniable link between these statements and the ban. In the light of these findings the Court also considers it established that the applicant suffered discrimination on the grounds of his sexual orientation and that of other participants in the proposed events. It further considers that the Government did not provide any justification showing that the impugned distinction was compatible with the standards of the Convention.
On the issue of freedom of assembly, the court took a particular slap at former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov:
The mayor of Moscow, whose statements were essentially reiterated in the Government’s observations, considered it necessary to confine every mention of homosexuality to the private sphere and to force gay men and lesbians out of the public eye, implying that homosexuality was a result of a conscious, and antisocial, choice. However, they were unable to provide justification for such exclusion. There is no scientific evidence or sociological data at the Court’s disposal suggesting that the mere mention of homosexuality, or open public debate about sexual minorities’ social status, would adversely affect children or “vulnerable adults”. On the contrary, it is only through fair and public debate that society may address such complex issues as the one raised in the present case. Such debate, backed up by academic research, would benefit social cohesion by ensuring that representatives of all views are heard, including the individuals concerned. It would also clarify some common points of confusion, such as whether a person may be educated or enticed into or out of homosexuality, or opt into or out of it voluntarily. This was exactly the kind of debate that the applicant in the present case attempted to launch, and it could not be replaced by the officials spontaneously expressing uninformed views which they considered popular. In the circumstances of the present case the Court cannot but conclude that the authorities’ decisions to ban the events in question were not based on an acceptable assessment of the relevant facts.
The foregoing considerations are sufficient to enable the Court to conclude that the ban on the events organised by the applicant did not correspond to a pressing social need and was thus not necessary in a democratic society.
The Moscow Times also notes that this ruling comes on the first day in which Moscow’s new mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, replaced outgoing mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who was fired last month by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Luzhkov had previously denounced Gay Pride parades as “Satanic” and vowed that he would never allow one to take place during his administration.