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Victory in Strasbourg for Alekseev and Russian Gay Rights

European Court of Human Rights Rules on Bans of Moscow Prides

“A triumph for LGBT Russians and for all Russians who love liberty” – Peter Tatchell
 
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■ Peter Tatchell (left) and Louis-Georges Tin both praised Nikolai Alekseev for his courage in fighting for gay rights in Russia.  The two are pictured with 'defiant' placards, with Moscow City Hall in the background, during the first Moscow Pride in 2006.
photo: UK Gay News

 

There were tears of joy in Moscow from Nikolai Alekseev and other Russian gay activists at lunchtime today (October 21) as the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg published its ruling which unanimously upheld the complaints lodged with the Court over the banning of three Moscow Gay Prides.

The case concerns complaints by Mr. Alekseev about the repeated ban by the authorities of Gay Prides he organised in 2006, 2007 and 2008.  He claimed to the Court that the authorities were in breach of Articles 11 (freedom of assembly and association) and 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Human Rights Convention and also that the reason for the ban was official disapproval of the Gay Pride participants’ sexual orientation, in breach of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

Court held that Russia was to pay to Mr Alekseyev 12,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 17,510 for costs and expenses.

In the ruling, the Court observed “that the main reason for the bans on the gay marches had been the authorities’ disapproval of demonstrations which, they considered, promoted homosexuality.  In particular, the Court could not disregard the strong personal opinions publicly expressed by the Moscow mayor and the undeniable link between those statements and the bans. Consequently, the Court found that, as the Government had not justified their bans in a way compatible with the Convention requirements, Mr Alekseyev had suffered discrimination because of his sexual orientation.”

The ruling by the Chamber of the Court is, however, not final – Russian can appeal to the Grand Chamber.

“This decision is a major victory for us because no judge, no lawyer and no politician will any longer be able to tell us that the bans of our events were lawful,” Mr. Alekseev said.

Speaking from Moscow, he added: “The decision is the first judicial blow for former Mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov who declared on several occasions that Gay Pride organisers and participants were satanic, weapons of mass destruction and faggots.”

Speaking to UK Gay News on the Strasbourg ruling, Peter Tatchell, the campaigner for global LGBT human rights, said in London: “This ruling is a major rebuke to the disgraced former mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, and to his authoritarian allies in the Russian government.

“They have been found guilty of violating the freedom of expression clauses of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“It is a huge embarrassment to the top Russian leaders, Putin and Medvedev, as well as to Luzhkov.  Their suppression of peaceful gay pride parades has been declared illegal.”

Mr. Tatchell, who has attended all but one of the Pride in Moscow, declared the Strasbourg ruling as “an astonishing victory”.

“Nikolai and his small band of daring LGBT activists have taken on the might of the Russian state – and won.  It is a triumph for LGBT Russians and for all Russians who love liberty.

“This ruling expands the democratic space and gives comfort to human rights defenders everywhere.  It’s a positive result for gay rights and liberty, and a setback for autocracy and homophobia.”

And in Paris, Louis-Georges Tin, the founder and president of the International Day Against Homophobia organisation, said that the decision of the European Court of Human Rights cannot be clearer.

“Russia must respect the rights of all citizens for freedom of assembly on its territory without delay, and especially LGBT activists who faced a systematic breach of this basic right in the past years,” he said.

“A new chapter is about to be opened in Russia and we hope that this decision will make history the arrests, fines, and harassment that LGBT rights defenders faced since 2006.

“We will keep standing firm next to our Russian friends as we have been since the first day and we are looking forward to take part to the first authorized Moscow Pride next year,” Mr. Tin pledged.

Every year since May 2006, Moscow Pride organisers have staged their events, despite all being banned by the Mayor.  The Russian courts have upheld the bans.

Over the years, Moscow Pride ban became an emblematic case of the breach of fundamental democratic rights.

To date, the only public declaration of a Russian President on a LGBT issue was made by President Putin in January 2007 while answering a question from a journalist.

The case lost today by Russia concerns the combination of the bans of Moscow Gay Pride in 2006, 2007 and 2008 as well as 164 LGBT public demonstrations.  It shows that the breach of the right to freedom of assembly of LGBT people in Russia is systematic.

Mr. Alekseev pointed out that the court decision is the first to recognise that the Russian law on freedom of assembly contradicts with the European Convention on Human Rights, which Russia signed as it emerged from the Soviet era.

“It is a gift to all democrats and human rights activists in Russia – and it is a gift of the LGBT community to some groups who still have difficulties to stand up for equal rights of LGBT people.”

He said that October 21 would be ‘Russian LGBT Liberation Day’ and would be marked each year with a public event.

“Today, we demanded that the European Union representative in Moscow to impose a visa ban on all the Russian judges who breached the law and confirmed the bans of Moscow Prides we legal.

“And we ask the General Prosecutor to initiate criminal prosecution against the former Moscow Mayor for using his official capacity to prevent public event which is a breach of article 149 of criminal code.

“Ironically, today Moscow’s local Parliament put a final ‘dot’ on the Luzhkov era by appointing a new Mayor.  We hope Mr. Sobyanin will take note of the European Court’s decision and authorise the sixth Moscow Pride in May 2011.”

Mr. Alekseev said he wanted to “personally extend my deepest gratitude and respect” to all his team of fellow activists in Russia who stood next to him over the past five years during the good and hard times.

“These people are my heroes,” he said.

He also thanked the many foreigners who have attended Moscow Prides over the last five years, especially Louis-Georges Tin (President of the IDAHO Committee), Volker Beck (Member of the German Parliament) and Peter Tatchell (British Human Rights campaigner).  Both Mr Beck and Mr. Tatchell were injured while taking part in Moscow Prides in 2006 and 2007).

Mr. Tatchell pointed out that each year since 2006 – despite threats to arrest and kill him – Nikolai Alekseev and his colleagues have exercised their lawful right to demand LGBT human rights.

“He has been arrested and beaten by the Moscow police, Christian fundamentalists, extreme nationalists and neo-Nazis,” Mr. Tatchell said.

“Undeterred, each year he continues to assert the legal right of LGBT people to hold a Moscow Pride parade – making a courageous stand both for LGBT equality and for freedom of expression.

“Mr Alekseev has taken on the repressive, homophobic Russian state, with his many legal cases in the European Court of Human Rights.

“He is a real pioneer and hero.

“His actions are supporting, broadening and strengthening the wider democratic and human rights movement in Russia, challenging the government’s drift to authoritarianism and its many restrictions on the right to protest.

“At a time when so many Russian human rights defenders have been badly beaten and even murdered,  Alekseev’s campaigns show him to be a man of great bravery and moral principle.

“He is risking his life for the sake of liberty and freedom – for LGBT people and for all Russians.”

Mr. Tin said that today’s decision will benefit not only LGBT rights defenders but all human rights activists.

“Moscow Gay Pride campaign has been a regular example of Russia’s disrespect of fundamental human rights.

“Even though the world watched every year Pride marchers being beaten, assaulted, arrested and insulted, this is the first time that the country is condemned for that.

“The IDAHO Committee wants to congratulate the Moscow Pride Organizers for their efforts and hard work since 2005 in raising awareness and advocating for legislative changes.

“The European Union countries represented in Moscow have now no excuse not to bring the same political support to Russian Pride organisers as in other Eastern European countries,” Mr. Tin concluded.

 ■ Under Articles 43 and 44 of the Convention, this Chamber judgment is not final.  During the three-month period following its delivery, any party may request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court.  If such a request is made, a panel of judges considers whether the case deserves further examination.  In that event, the Grand Chamber will hear the case and deliver a final judgment.  If the referral request is refused, the Chamber judgment will become final on that day.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE COURT RULING (PDF file)

 

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Posted: 21 October 2010 at 10:30 (UK time)

   
             
       

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