From Russia with hate: senior diplomat becomes latest Briton to fall foul of thugs: Siberia assault follows harassment of ambassador Livingstone plea to mayor of Moscow on gay parades
A senior British diplomat has been beaten by two unidentified assailants while on an official trip in provincial Russia. Nigel Gould-Davies, first secretary at the British embassy in Moscow, was attacked at 1am on Saturday as he walked across the theatre square in the Siberian city of Chita, police said.
Mr Gould-Davies needed hospital treatment for bruises to his face. His glasses were broken in the attack and he was unable to see his assailants, police said.
The beating is the second assault on Britons in Russia in two days, and follows an attack on Sunday by anti-homosexual protesters on the British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. Mr Tatchell was punched, knocked to the ground, and kicked while protesting about gay rights with a group of European parliamentarians. Yesterday embassy officials described the attack on Mr Gould-Davies as a random assault carried out by drunken teenagers celebrating the end of the school year.
But the assault follows sustained state-sponsored harassment by the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi against Anthony Brenton, Britain's ambassador in Moscow. Activists have picketed the British embassy, disrupted meetings and jumped in front of the ambassador's car. The campaign started last summer after Mr Brenton attended a human rights conference.
Mr Gould-Davies was at the end of a two-week lecture tour in Siberia. The diplomat had given lectures to university students on globalisation, and had also met with regional officials. Chita, 3,760 miles east of Moscow, is home to Russia's most famous inmate - Mikhail Khordorkovsky. Khordorkovsky was jailed for eight years for tax evasion and fraud in a case widely seen as politically motivated, and as punishment for his role in funding opposition parties ahead of 2003 Duma elections.
Embassy officials yesterday said there was no link between Mr Gould-Davies's trip and Khordorkovsky. An embassy spokesman said: "We can confirm that an assault took place against a British diplomat in Chita. We are in close contact with him. We look to the authorities to ensure that the perpetrators are caught."
In Moscow, three Russian gay activists appeared in court yesterday following Sunday's demonstrations, which saw the arrest of 25 campaigners, including the German Green MP Volker Beck and the Italian MEP Marco Cappato.
The mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, yesterday wrote to Moscow's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, urging him to lift the ban on gay parades in the city that prompted Sunday's protest. He also called for all charges against the gay rights demonstrators to be dropped. "I am writing to convey my deep concern at the reported physical violence against and arrest of Peter Tatchell," Mr Livingstone wrote, adding that gay parades were now "the practice in most cities around the world".
Yesterday Mr Tatchell said he was still recovering. He said the Moscow police had "stood and watched" while far-right skinheads kicked him to the ground and punched him. "Even today I'm woozy. My eyesight is pretty poor. It's difficult to see clearly," he told the Guardian.
"It's almost on a par with the beating I received at the hands of Robert Mugabe's thugs in 2001. This time I wasn't knocked unconscious and left in the gutter. But I ended up with a much bloodier face and severe bruising and swelling."
Mr Tatchell yesterday registered a complaint about his treatment with Moscow police. Officials, however, defended the actions of riot police. "The city authorities did the right thing by prohibiting the parade and thus preventing clashes between opponents who are numerous in this country and advocates of sexual minorities," said Mikhail Solomentsev, a spokesman for Moscow's mayor.