City’s Gay Pride Demonstration Derailed by Arrests
Original article: http://www.sptimes.ru/index.php?action_id=2&story_id=35912
The St. Petersburg authorities thwarted an attempted St. Petersburg Gay Pride rally Saturday, arresting the two organizers who came to Polyustrovsky park in the city’s northwest. The arrests came despite previous appeals to the authorities to allow the rally to go ahead, including a statement from Amnesty International. Four others were detained later the same day during a series of one-man protests near City Hall.
On July 3, City Hall granted a permit for the march and rally to be held in the remote park, which is located more than five kilometers from the nearest metro stations, after rejecting the sites and routes in the center proposed by the organizers, but banned the event two days later and had the organizers charged under the notorious local “gay propaganda” law.
During a press conference Friday, the organizers said they saw the revocation of the authorization as illegal, because the law on public assemblies does not contain any concept of revocation of previously granted authorization. They said they would act according to the previously given permit, while ignoring the revocation.
The two organizers, Yury Gavrikov and Maria Yefremenkova, were arrested and dragged or carried, respectively, to a police van in a demonstratively rough way soon after arriving at the park, while Gavrikov was talking about the permit withdrawal and showing City Hall’s letters to the press, and Yefremenkova was taking out a placard. An anti-gay opponent who grabbed the poster and attempted to run away with it was also detained.
Initially, the organizers had hoped to draw 300 to 400 in the event of an authorized rally, but only a handful of sympathizers showed up at the banned event. A group of young men who had seemingly come to the site with the aim of attacking the protesters was also seen.
The arrests were made 15 minutes before noon, the rally’s scheduled start time. The press and onlookers started to disperse soon after, but police reportedly continued to patrol the park until late.
Amnesty International condemned the ban Friday, demanding that the St. Petersburg government let the rally go ahead as planned, but the international organization was ignored by City Hall.
“This is a moment of truth for the St. Petersburg city authorities: By allowing this weekend’s Pride to go ahead peacefully, they have a chance to show that they do respect human rights, including the right to peaceful assembly, and that they do not discriminate against any members of society,” said Sergei Nikitin, director of the Moscow office of Amnesty International, in a statement.
In an unprecedented move, City Hall withdrew the event’s permit when two of the six organizers, Yury Gavrikov and Sergei Volkov, arrived at City Hall upon being invited there Thursday. City Hall’s Law, Order and Security Committee chair Leonid Bogdanov accused the activists of misinforming the authorities about the nature of the event.
“We didn’t authorize any parade; we have only one parade — the Victory Day one — and we won’t allow any parodies in our city, that’s what the overall gist of his words was,” Gavrikov said. To the objections that the word “parade” had been used by the press, rather than the organizers, Gavrikov and Volkov were told that they were obliged to “meter out” information they give to the media and control what is published.
According to City Hall, the organizers applied for a public assembly to “draw society and authorities’ attention to violations of civic rights toward [LGBT people].”
“However, according to media reports, the organizers are planning to hold the third St. Petersburg Gay Pride (Parade) on July 7,” the cancellation letter given to the activists by Bogdanov said.
“The given information is perceived by St. Petersburg residents as information directed toward the promotion of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism among people including minors, which has been confirmed by complaints to branches of St. Petersburg’s executive authorities and law-enforcement agencies.”
Bogdanov also wrote that “holding a public assembly in the form of a gay pride event is not provided for by the law and was not applied for” by the organizers, who were only authorized to hold a march and a stationary rally.
Gavrikov said that after he and Volkov were given the official rejection letter, police officers started writing reports charging the two activists with violating the law forbidding the “promotion of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism to minors.”
According to Gavrikov, his police report read that he “organized the public distribution of information on the Internet, particularly on the Gayrussia website and in the July 5 issues of newspapers Metro and Nevskoye Vremya, thus damaging the health, moral and spiritual development of minors, with the aim of forming distorted views about the social equality of traditional and non-traditional marital relationships.”
Under the law, the two men face 5,000-ruble ($152) fines.
Legislative Assembly United Russia deputy Vitaly Milonov, who initiated the law banning the “promotion of sodomy, lesbianism, bi-sexuality and transgenderism,” thanked City Governor Georgy Poltavchenko for banning what he called a “gay orgy.”
“St. Petersburg is a sodomite-free city,” he wrote on Twitter.
Former boxer and United Russia State Duma deputy Nikolai Valuyev applauded the disruption of the rally.
“The triumph of Sodom and Gomorrah in my home city of St. Petersburg did not happen! And I am very happy about that!” Valuyev tweeted Saturday.
Moscow Gay Pride founder Nikolai Alexeyev said last week that he would come to St. Petersburg with a group of Moscow activists to take part in the rally, whether it was sanctioned or not, but eventually refrained from taking part.
According to his postings on Twitter, Alexeyev disagreed with the organizers’ decision to go to Polyustrovsky park, as initially told to by City Hall, rather than holding an unauthorized rally in the city center as in the past two years.
Earlier, annual gay pride events, which were refused permits by the authorities outright, were held at popular tourist spots in the center, near the Hermitage on Palace Square in 2010 and near the Bronze Horseman on Senatskaya Ploshchad in 2011.
Instead, Alexeyev invited the press to City Hall, where a series of one-man protests were held later in the day.
Activists who came from Moscow and other Russian cities started to arrive at City Hall from 2 p.m., protesting the ban. One said he learned about City Hall withdrawing its permit while he was on a train midway from Voronezh, a city located more than 1,200 kilometers from St. Petersburg.
“I spent my own money to come to an authorized gay pride rally,” he said.
The police arrested three activists, two of whom had rainbow flags and one who had a rainbow painted on his placard reading “We won’t be driven underground anymore,” as well as one young woman as she was giving interviews to journalists. Two other activists who had posters with no rainbow symbols were allowed to leave the scene without being detained.
No reason for the detentions was given. Neither City Hall official Nikolai Strumentov nor a senior police officer present at the site would comment on the arrests.
Gavrikov and Yefremenkova were released Saturday evening, while Alexander Khots, Vasily Volkonsky, Ilmira Shakhraznova and Kirill Kalugin, who were arrested near City Hall, were held in a police precinct for 48 hours until Monday.
All those detained were charged with violating the law on public assemblies and failure to obey police officers’ orders. No charges under the “gay propaganda” law were pressed. The activists’ cases will be heard at their respective local courts.
Last month, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe called on Russia to explain how the country intended to uphold its obligations under human rights law after the adoption of “anti-gay-propaganda” laws in several regions of the country.
Earlier, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the bans on gay pride rallies in Moscow in 2006, 2007 and 2008 were illegal and ordered Russia to pay 29,510 euros ($41,090 at the then exchange rate) for damages and legal costs to Nikolayev in October 2010.
The court ruled that Russia had breached three articles of the European Convention, including the right to freedom of assembly (Article 11), the right to effective legal remedy (Article 13) and the ban on discrimination (Article 14). Russia’s appeal was rejected and the decision came into force in April 2011.