Riot Police Detain Gay Rights Activists

Natalya Krainova
The St. Petersburg Times

MOSCOW Ч OMON riot police detained gay rights activists, including three European lawmakers, on Sunday as they tried to deliver a letter to City Hall appealing a banned gay march.

A crowd of gay rights opponents, meanwhile, shouted УMoscow is not Sodom!Ф and pelted the activists with eggs and stones. Activists spoke of seeing knives and a gun as well.

Organizers had promised that 100 to 200 activists would show up at noon at City Hall on Tverskaya Ulitsa. But police and reporters far outnumbered the 50 who gathered with a letter signed by 40 European lawmakers asking Mayor Yury Luzhkov to allow the activists to march.

City Hall rejected a request to march this month; Luzhkov has called gay marches Уsatanic.Ф

Outside City Hall, riot police quickly detained a dozen activists, including leading gay rights campaigner Nikolai Alexeyev, and pushed them into vans.

УI tried to protect him, but I was roughly shoved away,Ф Vladimir Luxuria, a transgender Italian lawmaker, said of Alexeyev on Italian Radio Capital.

УAfter that someone started throwing eggs. They said, СMoscow is not Sodom.Т I then saw someone with a knife, and people started to throw stones at us,Ф said Luxuria, who was detained briefly.

УOne Orthodox protester had a real gun on him. I wonder what he was going to do with that?Ф said Alexei Davydov, an organizer of the protest who was briefly detained.

Police also detained German lawmaker Volker Beck and Marco Cappato, a European Parliament lawmaker from Italy. An egg struck Beck in the face as he was being led away. Cappato was detained after a man kicked him and he started to shout: УWhere are the police? Why donТt you protect us?Ф

Also detained was Peter Tatchell, a British human rights activist. A woman threw water at him from a bottle as he tried to speak with reporters. A young man then punched him in the head, and the police stepped in.

A total of 31 people were detained, and most of them later released, Moscow police spokesman Yevgeny Gildeyev told The Associated Press. He indicated that the man who had punched Tatchell was among the detainees.

But Davydov said 15 gay activists were still being held in custody late Sunday.

УPolice are trying to hold them until morning, but [State Duma Deputy Alexei] Mitrofanov is asking for their release, and maybe they will be let go earlier,Ф Davydov said.

Mitrofanov, who attended the protest, is a member of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party who recently started to voice his support for gay rights.

Davydov accused police of mistreating detained activists, including Alexei Kiselyov, who he said had suffered a concussion outside City Hall and was being refused medical assistance.

Western observers at the protest denounced what they called a heavy-handed police response.

УIt was a big mess, a lot of violence. Police arrested peaceful demonstrators,Ф Sophie IntТVeld, a Dutch lawmaker in the European Parliament, said by telephone.

УThey were hitting and kicking gay people, and police didnТt protect them,Ф said Boris Dittrich, who oversees gay rights for Human Rights Watch.

Dittrich criticized Moscow authorities for not giving permission for a Уpeaceful demonstration.Ф УItТs a shame that this happens,Ф Dittrich said. УI think itТs important that gay people have the same rights as other people.Ф

Dino Renvert, an aide to Beck, said the German lawmaker was detained for about an hour and released on the condition that he Уleaves the area immediately.Ф He returned to his hotel. Beck was beaten by gay opponents and detained by police when he attended an unsanctioned gay rally last May. That rally and SundayТs protest coincided with the anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1993.

Renvert accused Russian authorities of trying to prevent Beck from returning this year by making it unnecessarily difficult for him to obtain a visa. УIt took us two months to get a visa,Ф he said.

IntТVeld expressed her regret over what she called Уa travesty to democracy.Ф She said the issue was not only gay rights but the right of free assembly.

УIТd like to take home a political message that the European Union canТt turn a blind eye to this any more,Ф she said. УI am very sad.Ф

Davydov said For Human Rights leader Lev Ponomaryov and Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alexeyeva were gathering information about SundayТs detentions in order to appeal them in court. Moscow Helsinki Group helped organize a city-sanctioned rally against homophobia on Pushkin Square on Saturday.

Yulia Volkova and Lena Katina of the faux-lesbian pop duo t.A.T.u. made a brief appearance at SundayТs protest, but left quickly as their car was pelted with eggs.