City Hall Denies, LGBT Pride Leader Acquitted
Reposted from St Petersburg Times: http://sptimes.ru/index.php?action_id=2&story_id=37565
On July 1, City Hall denied giving the order to break up the Fourth St. Petersburg LGBT Pride event, held on the Fields of Mars on June 29, bringing into question the legality of the rally’s dissolution. Meanwhile, Yury Gavrikov, the event’s organizer, who had been charged with violating regulations governing public assembly and disobeying the police, has been acquitted by Judge Olga Andreyeva of the Dzerzhinsky District Court.
On June 29, the police forcibly broke up the Gay Pride rally, pushing and kicking the LGBT rights supporters, as an anti-gay crowd threw objects, cheered and shouted “Faggots, get out of here.”
On Thursday, Dzerzhinsky District Court Judge Olga Andreyeva dropped all charges against Gavrikov, who spent 20 hours in police custody after being arrested at the rally.
“My main argument was that demands by the police to stop the rally were illegal and unfounded,” Gavrikov told The St. Petersburg Times. He said that the main reason for his acquittal on both charges was the fact that City Hall failed to issue a copy of the order to him as the organizer, which it is legally required to do within 24 hours following the dispersal of any rally.
“The law lists not only the regulations on holding a rally, but also the conditions for stopping a rally; for instance, in the case of mass riots, which was not the case,” Gavrikov said. “A few complaints from members of the public do not serve as legal grounds for stopping a rally.”
The court’s ruling was influenced by reports that Nikolai Strumentov, an official with City Hall’s committee on law, order and security and who is believed to have ordered the end of the rally, denied giving orders to the police, according to Gavrikov.
Strumentov denied any involvement during a meeting at the offices of St. Petersburg human rights commissioner Alexander Shishlov on July 1, reportedly saying that he was officially on his summer vacation on that day and was not present at the rally in any official capacity. The police, however, insisted last week that they received official orders to stop the rally from City Hall.
In an article in Novaya Gazeta’s local edition published on Thursday, July 4, the Legislative Assembly’s Yabloko party deputy Boris Vishnevsky confirmed Strumentov’s denial. According to Vishnevsky, the official also claimed that there was no City Hall representative at the rally, even though the law requires the authorities to send a representative to any public assembly.
A videotaped exchange between Strumentov, Colonel Pyotr Chuiko, the chief police officer in charge of police forces at the rally, and Gavrikov just before the OMON riot police broke up the rally and arrested all of the demonstrators, shows Strumentov presenting a complaint from a member of the public as grounds for breaking up the rally to Gavrikov, but not giving any direct orders to stop the rally (in the presence of journalists).
Strumentov approached Gavrikov with Chuiko and a plainclothes police officer some 15 minutes into the rally that started with a 10-minute delay due to attacks from anti-gay protesters, who punched the participants and threw smoke bombs, eggs, stones and bottles of urine, while the police stood by.
He presented a handwritten sheet of paper claiming it contained a complaint from a member of the public about violations of the local law forbidding “promotion of homosexuality and pedophilia” by the LGBT demonstrators. “I am passing it on to police officers for a decision,” Strumentov said, before handing the sheet to Chuiko and stepping aside.
Chuiko, the acting chief of the police’s department of public order, ordered Gavrikov to end the rally within five minutes. “A report has been received from city residents, and the administration has made the decision to stop the event,” he said.
A few minutes later, Chuiko returned to the demonstrators, who refused to leave based on such unclear grounds, and announced, “I will be using physical force now.” He declined to show any written orders stating that the decision had been made by a City Hall representative on the scene. As the police started to drive the demonstrators from the site using brute force, Chuiko reacted to objections by saying, “I follow the orders of the administration, that’s it! Address your questions to the administration.”
The complaint that the authorities used as the grounds to stop the rally was signed “Olga Malykh” and was apparently written beforehand, setting the time of alleged offense as 2 p.m., while the rally was scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and in reality did not start until 2:40 p.m. Gavrikov was given no time to read it, but was later sent a photo of the document taken at the rally, which he forwarded to The St. Petersburg Times.
In her complaint, Malykh wrote that the underage boy she was with, Vasily Malykh, could have “formed misconceptions about social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional marital relations” by seeing the demonstrators’ placards.
None of the more than 50 demonstrators arrested were charged with the promotion of homosexuality. Currently, 34 face fines of up to 20,000 rubles ($600) for violating the regulations on rallies and either a fine of up to 1,000 rubles ($30) or up to 15 days in custody for failing to obey the police’s orders.
The police reports wrongly stated that the detainees had shouted slogans like “Freedom for Russia” while failing to mention any of the LGBT rights slogans that the demonstrators shouted. The demonstrators were taken to different police stations, with all 18 people who had been held at one police station being released without formal charges being pressed, Gavrikov said.
Trials are due to start this week, but Gavrikov believes that the other protesters will also be acquitted on the same grounds as he was.
Gavrikov said he would file complaints against the City Hall representative and police officers with the court and prosecutors. “They acted in violation of the law, and now it is not even clear who is responsible,” he said. “It should be established by an investigation and court proceedings. It turned out that about 50 people were roughly detained and held [at police stations] for lengthy periods without cause.”
On July 1, the Yabloko democratic party demanded that that an open investigation into the legality of the police and City Hall’s actions on June 29 be launched. “We believe that events on the Fields of Mars set a dangerous precedent; the police are looking for a cause to stop a legal rally that they don’t like, instead of protecting peaceful citizens from attackers,” Yabloko’s recently elected local chair Andrei Palevich said in a statement.
According to Russian law, the prevention of public assembly by an official using his professional position or by anyone using violence or the threat of violence is a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.
On Tuesday, July 9, Judge Olga Andreyeva of the Dzerzhinsky District Court acquitted six other protesters due to lack of evidence, Olga Lenkova of the LGBT rights organization Vykhod (Coming Out) told The St. Petersburg Times.