Attacks on Skopje Gay Pride Activists Condemned

Submitted by ILGA-Europe

Reposted from Balkan Insight:

Rights groups have demanded action after a gay and lesbian community centre was attacked at the weekend during the Macedonian capital's first Gay Pride Week.

Rights groups called for the authorities to bring to justice those responsible for launching the attack in Skopje on Saturday evening on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community centre, which was smashed up by dozens of people wearing masks and throwing stones during the screening of a film as part of the inaugural Gay Pride week.

The three NGOs, the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, the Coalition for Sexual Rights of Marginalised Groups and LGBT – United, in a joint statement published on Monday, demand a halt to what they said was a rising trend of hate-related violence.

“Although this is not the first attack on the LGBT centre, this is the first time that an attack took place in the presence of the public and amidst an ongoing event, [showing that] intolerance against the LGBT community is increasing,” the statement said.

The attack, which broke windows and damaged property, also injured one of the two police officers on duty to ensure security at the event, police said.

The same day, an unidentified group of people also beat up a teenage boy near Skopje’s landmark Stone Bridge in another attack believed to have been motivated by homophobia.

Police have said that they are investigating the incidents but have not yet made any arrests.

The Dutch embassy also strongly condemned the attack on the LGBT centre, for which it supplies funding.

"We appeal to the authorities to condemn any acts of violence which endanger the safety and security of citizens," the embassy said.

It also urged the authorities "to undertake a thorough investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice, as well as to do their utmost to protect the property and the safety of citizens regardless of their social status or beliefs".

The violence came amid the first-ever Skopje Gay Pride Week, a series of awareness- rising and educational workshops throughout the city.

In the weeks ahead of the Pride Week, some media seen as close to the conservative government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski falsely reported that a Gay Pride parade was planned.

This caused an upsurge of anti-gay sentiment on social media, with some people even announcing an anti-gay march in response, although this did not take place.

“No public march was planned but it was obvious that someone wanted to heat up the situation with the spin that a gay parade would take place. I was not surprised [by the attack], as information suggested that there would be an attempt against the centre to show that it cannot continue,” said the head of the Macedonian Helsinki Committee, Uranija Pirovska.

The human rights groups urged media to stop spreading disinformation and inflaming hate speech that could lead to further violence.

Local and international rights groups have complained about Macedonia’s controversial anti-discrimination law, adopted in 2010, which according to them misses a key element in failing to envisage explicit protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

A report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, ‘Rainbow Europe Index 201’, ranked Macedonia the worst in the Balkans when it comes to legal protection.

Activists also complain about frequent remarks by ministers and government officials that they see as discriminatory.

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