European Court on Human Rights Rules That Moscow Gays Have Right To Pride
October 21st, 2010
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.
Russian LGBT Activist Arrested Again, This Time At Moscow Rally
September 22nd, 2010
LGBT Activist Nikolai Alekseev has had a busy week this week. He was among eleven activists who were arrested yesterday during a banned protest outside of Moscow City Hall. All eleven activists have been subsequently released. The activists were protesting against Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, whose recent remarks about “faggots” were ruled by a Moscow court as not being hate speech. The protesters had chained themselves to a railing outside of city hall.
Luzhkov abruptly left Moscow to “vacation” at a home in Austria. He is under widespread pressure to resign his post amid widespread allegations of corruption and incompetence. Independent observers believe that some in Russia’s central government see Luzhkov’s power base in Moscow city government as potential threat.
Alekseev has recently been released following a bizarre kidnapping by Russian security forces at week at Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport as he was about to board a flight to Geneva. He was held for two days as his captors demanded that he withdraw his lawsuits against Russia lodged at the European Court of Human Rights. They also demanded that he cancel yesterday’s protest at city hall. At one point, his captors used his mobile phone to put out false text messages that Alekseev had fled to Belarus and demanded political asylum. You can read about Alekseev’s account of his ordeal here.
Russian Activist’s Whereabouts Still Unknown
September 16th, 2010
The web site of GayRussia.ru, which reported that Moscow-based LGBT activist Nikolai Alekseev has been detained by the FSB (the former KGB) appears to have been crippled as of this writing, possibly as a result of some some sort of attack. Meanwhile, several of us have received an email from Alekseev’s email account saying that he is “relatively free” somewhere outside of Moscow and is safe. However, it is believed that the FSB has access to his computer and email address list, so such messages are being taken with a huge grain of salt.
MOSCOW, September 16, 2010 (GayRussia) – Russian authorities have detained the organiser of Moscow Gay Pride, Nikolai Alekseev, and are requiring him to abandon a picket, demanding the resignation of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov.
The authorities are also demanding that he withdraws lawsuits lodged with the European Court of Human Rights over the banning of Moscow Gay Prides over the past five years.
“They demanded of me to give up on the picket Luzhkov and withdraw a complaint by the gay pride of European court” Mr. Alekseev said today at 6:00 am.
Later, at 8 am, he clarified that he is no longer held in Domodedovo Airport, where he was detained at the airport yesterday evening.
“I cannot say where [I am], but not in Moscow,” he said when asked about his whereabouts.
It is unclear from that post how Alekseev was able to communicate the GayRussia.ru reporter. One Russian-language news report says that Alekseev is being held in Minsk.
LGBT activist Nikolai Baev suggested that Alekseev’s detention is linked to announced plans to hold a demonstration calling for the resignation of Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov. who has consistently denied the group permission to hold Gay Pride rallies for the past several years. Luzhkov has denounced homosexuality as “Satanic” and insists that there will never be a gay pride march in Moscow. Russian activists have lodged a lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights over the parade bans.
Alekseev was detained yesterday at Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport as he was about to board Swiss Air flight LX 1337 to Geneva. According a news report conveyed by the LGBT website Anti-Dogma, Russia’s Interior Ministry told ITAR-TASS that Alekseev was detained by airport security following an incident that he supposedly instigated at the airport. Baev told GayRussia.ru that he suspects that Alekseev may be undergoing psychological pressure and possible torture in an attempt to get him to drop the lawsuits.
Nikolai Alekseev Believed Held By Russia’s Secret Police
September 15th, 2010
Nikolai Alekseev was arrested tonight at the Domodedovo Airport in Moscow where he was supposed to board the flight LX 1337 from Swiss Air Lines to Geneva.
His arrest took place right after the passport control. The border police asked Swiss Air Lines to cancel his boarding pass and to offload his luggage from the plane.
He had time to call a friend as well as the news agency Interfax. Reports of his arrest have been republished in the evening through the Russian media.
As he told his friends and the media, no explanation was given to him on the motive of his arrest.
Airport security and Moscow police both deny holding Alekseev. One office told Alekseev’s friends that Alekseev may have been held by FSB agents (the successor to the former Soviet-era KGB) for interrogation at its headquarters in Lubyanka in central Moscow.
Activists at GayRussica applied for a permit yesterday to hold a demonstration on Sept 21 on under the title of “Luzhkov — Gomiki.” That is in reference to Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who has consistently denied the group permission to hold Gay Pride rallies for the past several years. “Gomiki” is the Russian word that translates roughly as “faggot.” Russia’s officially controlled news channels have lately accused Luzhkov of corruption, leading to speculation that he may be forced to step down.
This latest development with Alekseev’s detention is worrying. According to GayRussia.Ru, the Russian government recently passed a law reviving FSB detention practices that had been routine during the KGB era. The FSB has reportedly declined to comment on whether they are detaining Alekseev.
Moscow Pride Elude Police, Pride March Goes Ahead Undisturbed
May 29th, 2010
In defiance of yet another ban against holding a Gay Pride march by Moscow city authorities, and in yet another display of LGBT activists’ incredible organizing abilities, a march by LGBT advocates and allies took place this afternoon on Moscow’s main Leningradsky Avenue undisturbed. Pride organizer Nikolai Alexeyev pulled off this feat after luring hundreds of riot police and undercover officers to a different location:
“We want to show that the peaceful march of gays and lesbians in this city is possible,” Alexeyev told AFP after the protest. “You saw we didn’t disrupt any traffic, we didn’t disrupt any rights of other citizens.”
“Unfortunately we are obliged to do some kind of military operation to make sure that this event takes place.”
A single police car arrived ten minutes after the protest ended and no-one was arrested.
Organisers had changed the location at the last minute and bussed reporters on a twisting two-hour route to evade a heavy police presence in central Moscow.
In a diversion tactic, Alexeyev on Wednesday told journalists the protest would be held outside the European Commission’s office in central Moscow. Police and riot police gathered at the announced location, organisers said.
Riot Police Break Up Pride Events in Minsk
May 15th, 2010
Belarussian police on Saturday broke up a gay and lesbian pride demonstration by about 20 participants who defied an official ban to gather on a side street in central Minsk and march with bright rainbow flags.
Some carried handwritten signs saying, “Today they ban gays, tomorrow they will ban you,” in a short-lived protest that was the first of its kind organized by the Russian and Belarussian Slavic Pride rights group in the capital.
Police wearing black berets and armed with batons moved in after the protesters advanced about 300 meters down the street. They tore away the flags and hauled off the marchers, some of whom had traveled from Russia for the event.
“The police reaction was completely disproportionate to the threat which they thought the protesters posed,” Russian activist Nikolai Alekseev told Reuters.
UK Gay News anticipated the potential trouble in Minsk and has been live-blogging Pride events the entire weekend. Here’s their description of the crackdown:
Minsk had its gay pride march. For just 10 minutes, 40 Belarusians and Russians waived a 12 meters long rainbow flag for a short march of approximately 200 meters. They were at first met by a large group of journalists, photographers and TV crew. But when they reached the first crossing point, they were trapped by several vans of anti-riot police. Suddenly, the doors of the vans opened and anti-riot officers ran towards the participants. “I never saw anything of the kind” said Nikolai Alekseev by mobile phone. “They were brutal and violent” he added. Another participant who did not want to be named said: “It was like a group of wild dogs”. The march ended with most of the participants being arrested and violently beaten. A few managed to escape but the police ran after them.
Twelve people were reportedly detained by police. It appears that at least eight of them have been released, but must appear in court on Monday.
The planned march, which had been banned by Minsk authorities, was just one of several events planned by the Minsk LGBT community. Other private events, including a dance scheduled for Saturday night, appear to have gone on without incident, and sometimes with police protection from skinhead protesters.
Here is video of the march:
Two Views On Moscow Court Hearing on Marriage Case; European Court Seeks Answers on Pride Bans
October 9th, 2009
In the post about the Moscow court that denied a marriage license to a Russian lesbian couple, I neglected to give a hat tip to Russian LGBT activist Nikolai Alekseev. In an email, he offered two interesting insights into the goings-on in the court building that day, in the chambers and outside:
During the hearing, the Judge asked Irina S. “Are you husband or are you wife?” which already showed at the time that she was not neutral. But perhaps the biggest surprise came later while we were waiting for the decision: A Court employee came to talk with us and told us that he simply could not understand why the couple was not allowed to marry.
He also notes that the case has received widespread notice in Russian media, much of it relatively positive.
On another note, the European Court of Human Rights has given Russia until January 20 to answer for the bans of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 Moscow Pride marches. This action results from a complaint filed before the court by human rights activists following the bans on some 163 different LGBT events. Alekseev, who is one of the plaintiffs and chief organizer for Moscow Pride, hopes that a decision comes down before the next scheduled Moscow Pride on May 29, 2010.
Moscow Court Denies Marriage Bid
October 8th, 2009
Last May, Irina Fedotova-Fet and Irina Shipitko strode into a Moscow registry office and sought a marriage license. The office director denied their request, saying that Russian law only recognizes a marriage between a man and a woman. The couple took their case to court, which this week upheld the registrar’s ruling:
Irina Fet and Irina Shipitko had asked the Tverskoi district court to overrule a decision by a registry office which refused to endorse their marriage in May. It quoted Russian laws which describes a marriage as a “union between a woman and a man.”
“The judge refused their request,” spokeswoman Alexandra Berezina said without giving further details.
According to Moscow LGBT activist Nikolai Alekseev, who served as their attorney, the couple plan to fight the ruling. They also plan to go go Canada later this month and marry there.
Moscow Protest By LGBT Advocates Called Off
July 6th, 2009
Russian gay activists have cancelled a planned July 7 protest in Moscow which was intended to coincide with a visit by President Barack Obama. Moscow authorities banned the protest in front of the U.S. Embassy, but that’s not why organizers called it off. Organizer Nikolai Alekseev cited increased security and safety fears as factors:
He said: “In the context of another unlawful ban by the authorities on a public event as well as the special measures taken in the Russian capital during the visit by U.S. President Barack Obama, we have decided to cancel the event due to concerns over the safety of our members.”
Moscow had banned an earlier Pride march that was set to coincide with the Eurovision Song Contest taking place in Moscow in May. That peaceful Pride march went ahead, but was quickly broken up within minutes by riot police.
Russian LGBT Advocates To Picket Obama In Moscow
June 9th, 2009
Nikolail Alekseev, organizer of Moscow’s Gay Pride events, has announced that they plan to stage a protest in front of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on July 7 during a state visit of U.S. President Barack Obama. They plan to press Obama on same-sex marriage:
“We want to express our solidarity with US gay activists who are planning similar protests in Washington DC, Chicago and other cities in the coming months,” he said.
Andy Thayer of Chicago’s Gay Liberation Network commended the Russian protest. ““This international support for our equal rights is particularly commendable in light of the fact that most LGBT groups in the U.S. continue to fail to help LGBTs outside of the U.S,” he told a Russian LGBT web site. Thayer participated in last month’s Slavic Pride which was broken up by Russian riot police.
Alekseev will apply for permission with Moscow authorities to hold the picket in front of the embassy. He characterizes the likelihood of receiving the proper permits “highly unlikely,” and doesn’t say what he will do if the permits are denied.
LGBT Russians Peacefully March in St. Petersburg, other cities
May 17th, 2009
In sharp contrast to yesterday’s aggressive breakup of a peaceful Slavic Pride march in Moscow by riot police, a “Rainbow flash mob” of between 100 and 250 LGBT people and supporters marched peacefully today in St. Petersburg.
The flash mob gathered at Ligovsky Avenue and walked from there to Nevsky Prospect, remaining on the sidewalk and off of the street. Police reportedly gathered to monitor the situation but made no moves to hinder the march. Once the group reached Nevsky Prospect, they released hundreds of balloons into the air with notes attached.
There were much smaller balloon releases in other cities and towns across Russia, all coordinated to take place at 2:00 p.m. local time. In the southern Ural mountains city of Chelyabinsk, a man holding a half dozen colorful balloons walked down the rain-soaked streets of the main commercial district. His balloons stood out on the drab gray afternoon and attracted the attention of a couple of women. Impressed with the “positive energy” of the colorful balloons and the message of equality and freedom for LGBT people they represented, the two agreed to lend their support and helped to release the balloons.
Perhaps the most impressive accomplishment these balloon releases achieved was the widespread favorable coverage in the Russian press. The balloon releases were organized as part of the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO).
Meanwhile back in Moscow, all of the participants arrested in yesterday’s march have been released. Six, including march organizer Nikolai Alekseev, were held overnight and released at noon today.
[Hat tip: Anti-Dogma]
Russian Riot Police Break Up Slavic Pride
May 16th, 2009
Police in riot gear swept in and forcibly broke up an attempted Slavic Pride march near Moscow State University shortly after noon today just as the march was getting underway. Between twenty and forty people were arrested in all.
The march had only been underway for about a minute when OMON rushed in and began hauling off marchers to waiting buses. Riot police then began detaining other gay activists who appeared shortly after and were speaking with media. They were arrested even though they hadn’t participated in the march itself. There are reports that as police hauled away Ksenia Prilebskaya, they ripped off her shirt and bra and roughly pushed her into a police bus.
Moscow authorities had earlier denied permission to hold the march, and they vowed to break up any attempt by activists to march without permission. Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov has described Pride marches as “satanic,” and his spokesman yesterday said the march sought to “destroy the moral foundations of our society.”
Among those in custody are Slavic Pride organizer Nikolai Alekseev and Chicago LGBT activist Andy Theyer. Alekseev and another activist were were at an adjacent park popular with newlyweds dressed as a groom and bride while giving interviews with media when police spotted and arrested them. Alekseev was held down by five riot police as he was arrested. British activist Peter Tatchell was arrested but has since been released. One activist has already been taken before a judge who pronounced him innocent, but he still remains in police custody.
There is currently no word from Alekseev since his arrest. He has reportedly been segregated from the other arrested activists and his cell phone has been confiscated.
The detentions come as Moscow prepares to host the final round of the Eurovision Song Contest, Europe’s most prestigious pop music event. Russia had reportedly spent some 24 million euros on the contest in an attempt to bolster its international image. Some singers had threatened to boycott the wildly popular world event if the Slavic Pride march was broken up. Today’s arrests are highly embarrassing for the Eurovision organizers, which has a big gay following across Europe. According to the U.K.’s Telegraph:
Advance questions about the march drew embarrassed silence from Graham Norton, the BBC’s commentator for the competition, and Andrew Lloyd Weber, who co-wrote the song for Britain’s contestant, Jade Ewen. Both men claimed not to have heard of the protest, while Lord Lloyd Weber suggested that it might have been banned to avoid traffic congestion.
A few hours earlier, Russian Orthodox nationalists held a counterdemonstration against Slavic Pride. That counterdemonstration was held with the approval of Moscow city authorities. Demonstrators there chanted “Glory to Christ! Death to the Antichrist!.”
UK Gay News continues to provide hour-by-hour updates on the situation.
Russian Police Vow To Break Up Tommorow’s Slavic Pride March
May 15th, 2009
Moscow authorities have vowed to clamp down on any gay pride march which LGBT advocates try to hold on Saturday. Organizers of Slavic Gay Pride had planned on holding a march on Saturday to coincide with the high visibility of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, which is being held in Moscow. The Dutch contestants have already threatened to boycott the Eurovision Finals if the Gay Pride march is not allowed to go ahead. the French Eurovision delegation have announced their intent to join the march while displaying their Eurovision credentials. U.K. LGBT activist Peter Tatchell has also arrived in Moscow to participate in Pride activities.
According to continually-updated reports at UK Gay News, Slavic Gay Pride organizers have gone into hiding as police try to track them down and arrest them. One Moscow daily has reported that police are planning to arrest Moscow Pride leader Nikolai Alekseev. For his part, Alekseev isn’t deterred. Speaking from his secret location, he declared:
“Everyone is very excited about tomorrow and more than ever ready to go in the street despite the threats reported by the Moscow police tonight. It is just hard to believe that despite we are organizing the action for the 4th time, we have this year 55 activists from several regions of Russia and Belarus who checked in for the event and who since Thursday are just working on it and who more than everything want to march tomorrow. For the forth time, we are just showing to Russian that gays and lesbians are not cowards and that they are not scared to march for their rights. And looking at the high number of reports in the Russian media, the message is delivered!”
The situation is getting very tense. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in UK has issued a “travel advisory” for LGBT visitors in Moscow. Russian Nationalists have already announced their own brand of an “ex-gay cure”:
Russian nationists are threatening to “cure” anyone who takes part in Saturday’s Slavic Gay Pride Parade in Moscow. ”We will cure them for sure. We will help them to the hospital to be treated by the doctors. They are ill people,” Alexei Samsonov, a right-wing activist, told Reuters.
Last year’s Moscow Pride was conducted in a similarly clandestine manner, as Alekseev and other activists pulled off several different Pride activities while Moscow police scampered like Keystone cops. In 2007, an unauthorized march ended in violence and massive arrests.
Moscow Pride Organizers Jubilant
June 2nd, 2008
Organizers of yesterday’s Moscow Pride events consider yesterday’s actions a tremendous success. Throughout the day, they were able to stage two highly visible demonstrations garnering local and international media attention while eluding police. Police had tried to preemptively detain Moscow Pride organizer Nickolai Alekseev earlier that morning, but he was able to get away.
No one was hurt during the events, but five activists were ultimately detained. One was briefly held but let go, while the four who unfurled the banner from an apartment across from Moscow City Hall were released by the court the following Monday morning.
With the release of those four activists, Alekseev declared the event over and hailed the event a success:
“Our people showed that we are not only a force for gays but a political force and won’t compromise on our rights,” he told AFP.
Alekseev elaborated further in an email:
“No human rights group or opposition [has] ever humiliated the Moscow authorities so much.
We wanted to defy the Mayor in front of his office. Not only [has the] homophobia of Mayor Luzhkov been advertised today, but also the full collapse of his administration to prevent gays and lesbians [from] realiz[ing] their constitutional rights to march.
Today, we showed that our group is powerful not only in gay and lesbian aspects, but in general. Our fight is only at its beginning.”
[Hat tip: Bob Schwartz, Gay Liberation Network]
Moscow’s Banned Pride Day Becomes Pride Month
April 25th, 2008
Russian gay rights advocate Nikolai Alexeyev’s bid for a gay pride parade during the May Day holidays was rejected by Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Segei Tsoi, the mayor’s spokesman, warned that if they went ahead with the march, there “could be blood, which no one wants. He also accused Alexeyev of trying to “spoil” a traditional labor holiday, a charge which Alexeyev adamantly rejected:
“As if gays don’t support peace and don’t work,” said an incredulous Alexeyev. “Don’t we pay the taxes that support this government? I don’t understand this at all.”
In response, Alexeyev has announced that he will submit notifications for five marches per day for each day in May on different streets around Moscow’s city center. Anticipating that none of these marches will be permitted to take place, Alexeyev says it will demonstrate to the Council of Europe that “homosexuals are not allowed to freely express their opinions in Moscow — in any day in any form, in any street and in any time.” Russia is a member of the Council of Europe and a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights, which obligates Russia to observe the rights to peaceful assembly and demonstrations. A complaint has been filed in the European Court in Strasbourg.
Mayor Luzhkov has branded gay pride parades as “satanic” and vowed that they would never be permitted in the capital.
Last year’s Moscow Pride gathering was broken up by violent thugs, Russian Orthodox clergy and police. None of the anti-gay assailants who instigated the violence were arrested. Instead, police hauled off Alexeyev, British gay rights advocate Peter Tatchell, Right Said Fred singer Richard Fairbrass, Italian Member of European Parliament Marco Cappato, German Member of Parliament Volker Beck, and 27 others.
Homosexuality was legalized in Russia in 1993, but discrimination against gays and lesbians remains widespread.