LGBT Marchers Detained In May Day Demo

Submitted by ILGA-Europe

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The police deployed a notorious United Russia anti-gay law to detain 17 LGBT activists for attempting to raise rainbow flags or demonstrate anti-homophobia posters during the May Day demonstration in downtown St. Petersburg on Tuesday.

Before the march started, City Hall official Nikolai Strumentov approached the organizers with two police officers to request that the 100-strong LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) group — part of a larger group of democrats — put away all of their rainbow flags and posters.

He said that the flags and posters violated the ban on the “promotion of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism” proposed by United Russia deputy Vitaly Milonov in November and signed into law by St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko in March.

The posters and a large pink banner that the activists held read:

“We didn’t vote for discrimination,” “They came for gays today, they will come for you tomorrow,” “What difference does it make what you are, if you’re a human being,” “Hatred is the enemy of children,” “Freedom to Pussy Riot; freedom to us all,” “LGBT rights are human rights,” “To choose who you love is anyone’s right” and “The world is colorful, not black and white.”

The democratic group’s main slogan and banner, “St. Petersburg Against Putin,” met with no objections from the authorities.

“They just mumbled something disapprovingly,” group organizer and Solidarity Democratic Movement activist Vladimir Volokhonsky said by phone Tuesday.

In 2010, the group of democrats was stopped before it began to march and told to disperse by the police for a banner reading “Fire Matviyenko,” directed against the city’s then-governor Valentina Matviyenko.

Shortly before Strumentov asked for the LGBT activists to put away their posters, a man attacked an activist in an attempt to destroy his poster, which read, “There are 4 percent Orthodox Christians and 4 percent LGBT people in the world. Minorities?” The attacker was detained by police and, according to a witness, dropped a knife as he was being led away.

The activists obeyed the orders and put away their posters, but some tried to raise rainbow flags when marching along Nevsky Prospekt and were swiftly arrested on the corner of Nevsky and Ulitsa Marata. Ten activists were taken by bus to a police precinct.

When other activists called the precinct later Tuesday, the duty officer said the detained would be held until Wednesday morning, saying that those were the orders from his superiors, the Vykhod (Coming Out) LGBT rights organization said in a statement.

Another seven LGBT activists were arrested during the democratic group’s stationary rally, which was held on Konyushennaya Ploshchad after the march, when they attempted to unfurl their posters.

However, instead of charging them under the anti-gay law, the police charged all the 17 detained activists with violating the rules on holding a public meeting and failure to obey a police officer’s orders. The latter offense is punishable by anything from a 500-ruble ($17) fine to 15 days in prison.

Vykhod said in a statement Tuesday that the detentions were conducted roughly by the police, who did not offer any explanation for the arrests.

The police have not admitted to detaining anyone under the anti-gay law. They said in a statement that 15 people had been detained and charged with failure to obey police officers’ orders.

“They make detentions based on the [anti-gay] law, but eventually press some other charges,” detained activist Sergei Kondrashov said by phone from a police precinct Tuesday.

The May Day demonstration, officially celebrated as International Workers’ Solidarity Day under the Soviets, was reformatted into the less innocuous Day of Spring and Labor under the late Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1992.

Traditionally, both pro-Kremlin and oppositional parties take part in the demo, as well as various pressure groups.

It is also the only public rally in which the opposition is allowed to march along Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s main street, since President Vladimir Putin introduced restrictions on public protests in 2005 in the wake of the events of the Orange Revolution in Kiev, Ukraine.

In all other cases, planned oppositional marches are routinely banned by City Hall on grounds such as roadworks along the route.

This year, the democratic group also included the Yabloko Democratic Party, Solidarity, Party of People’s Freedom (Parnas), St. Petersburg Observers and the Russian Social-Democratic Union of Youth.

The procession of the Other Russia oppositional party, 12 of whose activists are currently on trial for alleged extremism, went smoothly. More than 100 marched behind a banner reading “Cleanse the Filth from the Kremlin,” and shouted slogans such as “Russia will be free,” “Putin is a thief” and “You obey the law.”

On its way down Nevsky Prospekt, The Other Russia group was joined briefly by the avant-rock band NOM, whose members came in comical stage outfits, one wearing a pig mask.

Another endangered group — anarchists, more than 100 of whom were arrested in the authorities’ crackdown on May 1, 2009 — was not targeted by the authorities Tuesday.

Anarchists marched in a joint group with animal rights activists and arrived at St. Isaac’s Square, where Communists, left-wing activists and nationalists held three simultaneous stationary rallies, with speakers speaking from three different platforms located on different parts of the square.

Putin’s United Russia party marched at the head of the demo in a joint group with the Federation of Independent Trade Unions. Contrary to independent trade unions, such as the local Ford plant trade union, which marched with left-wing activists, the federation is the official heir of the simulated Soviet trade unions.

This pro-Kremlin group, whose main slogan was “For Justice,” estimated itself to be the largest of those taking part at 15,000. It was also reportedly the first to disperse, soon after participants arrived at the site of United Russia’s stationary rally on Palace Square.

The police said a total of 31,500 took part in the event, with 3,000 policemen deployed.

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