Cablegate: Moscow Gay Rights March: Police Look On As

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E.O. 12958: N/A

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1. (SBU) Summary: The May 27 gay rights demonstration and its
aftermath highlight two disheartening trends in Russia: the
increasing collusion between security forces and nationalist
groups, and the reluctance of the human rights community to
engage on an issue that has little resonance with Russians.
Neo-fascist and nationalist groups attacked would-be
participants in a banned gay rights march in Moscow under the
watchful eyes of the security forces. Following the attack,
the police detained several gay rights activists while
allowing their attackers to go free. EU embassies whose
citizens were attacked complained to the GOR, while Russian
human rights groups remained muted in their criticism. End

The Gay Rights Demonstration

2. (SBU) On May 26, gay activists held a conference "Gay
Rights as Human Rights" and attempted a march on Moscow city
hall despite a ban on what Mayor Luzhkov called their
"Satanic" demonstration. Nikolay Alekseyev of the Human
Rights Project and other march organizers, joined by several
European parliamentarians, were met by special forces troops
and surrounded by journalists upon their arrival at Mayor
Luzhkov's office. They were detained, pushed into a van, and
transported to police headquarters, where they were held

3. (SBU) Approximately 100 other gay rights activists were
then confronted by nationalist, neo-fascist, and
ultra-conservative counter-demonstrators. An Embassy officer
on the scene observed that the police did not separate the
demonstrators from the counter-demonstrators. The
counter-demonstrators threw eggs, water, and punches at the
gay right activists while the police watched. Several
activists were detained by the police after being beaten by
counter-demonstrators (approximately 30 gay rights activists
and four counter-demonstrators were detained). Four Western
European Green Party and other leftist politicians (the UK's
Peter Tatchell, German Bundestag member Volker Beck, and two
Italian members of the European Parliament) were also
assaulted by the counter-demonstrators and then detained by
the police. Tatchell (who was later diagnosed with a mild
concussion) told us that he was kept in a police van with
three neo-Nazis and taunted by police, who denied him medical
attention for more than an hour.

--------------------------------------------- ---
Homosexuality as Demographic and Security Threat
--------------------------------------------- ---

4. (SBU) Vsevolod Chaplin, deputy head of the Moscow
Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, told
us that the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) did not support the
anti-gay protesters, despite the presence of several ROC
priests in the ranks of those violently protesting the
demonstration. The ROC had, however, spoken out in
opposition to the gay rights march. The ROC External Affairs
office issued a statement on May 23 saying, "The Russian
Orthodox Church considers parades by sexual minorities an
unacceptable practice that encroaches on the moral standards
shared by our multiethnic people, on public order, and, in
the long term, on the future of our people. Degradation of a
nation is an inevitable threat if its people do not
procreate. So, in the long term, propaganda of homosexuality
is an appeal for the annihilation of our people." President
Putin's aside (at a February 2 press conference) portraying
homosexuals as a demographic threat has since been picked up
by the ROC and others.

European Reaction

5. (SBU) In the wake of the detentions, the Italian Embassy
petitioned authorities to release its nationals. The Italian
members of the European Parliament and one member of the
European Commission were charged with illegally crossing
police lines. The German Embassy called the Moscow city
government and the Russian Interior Ministry to secure the
release of Volker Beck. The next day, the German Embassy
accompanied Beck to the MFA and to the office of Human Rights
Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin to protest his treatment. Lukin
asked that the complaint be submitted in writing. The
British Ambassador is sending a letter to Foreign Minister
Lavrov protesting the inaction of the police in the beating

MOSCOW 00002739 002.2 OF 002

of Tatchell and others.

Organizers Next Steps

6. (SBU) March organizer Alekseyev said that he was held in a
cell overnight with two other protesters and was treated well
by the police. "They were almost apologetic, telling me that
the orders to hold us overnight came "from the highest
levels," which Alekseyev took to mean Luzhkov. He was charged
the next morning with disobeying a police order and failure
to produce identity documents. Alekseyev is confident that
the video and eyewitness evidence that he will produce at his
hearing on June 8 will lead the court to drop the charges.

7. (SBU) Alekseyev was pleased with the amount of media
coverage the demonstration had received and was already
planning another march next May. He also planned to file a
case against the authorities for illegally banning the march,
as he had done last year. He appealed last year's ban to the
European Court of Human Rights and expects his case to be
heard within the next few months. Alekseyev is also working
with several European Green parties to institute a travel ban
on Mayor Luzhkov and other officials as a way of pressuring
the authorities to allow the march.

--------------------------------------------- --
Muted Response from Russian Human Rights Groups
--------------------------------------------- --

8. (SBU) The Human Rights community has voiced only muted
support for the gay rights activists. The Moscow Helsinki
Group provided the venue for the pre-demonstration press
conference but did not otherwise participate. Human Rights
Watch (HRW) Moscow Director Allison Gill told us HRW Russia
did not send anyone, but HRW's office for Lesbian, Gay,
Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) issues sent two observers
from New York to the demonstration, one of whom was detained.

9. (SBU) Human rights expert Kirill Babichenko told us that
many human rights advocates find the issue of gay rights
distasteful or "not serious" and distance themselves from it.
Gill and Alekseyev said that the gay rights activists
themselves disagree about the best approach, with many
believing that a demonstration could backfire. Gill said
that the participation in the demonstration of Duma Deputy
Aleksey Mitrofanov of Zhirinovskiy's party had turned many
supporters away from the event. While many Russian human
rights supporters see the dispersal of the gay rights
demonstration as a violation of the right to freedom of
assembly, they are not saying so publicly. In a May 30
letter, for example, the leaders of several human rights
groups asked the G8 leaders to "explicitly and unambiguously
bring to the attention of Mr. Putin...your concern about the
gross, mass, and defiant violations of the most fundamental
human rights and democratic freedoms." The letter mentioned
the crackdown on the Other Russia demonstrations of 2006 and
2007, but omitted the gay rights demonstration.

10. (SBU) In a post-demonstration conversation, Mitrofanov
described to us his efforts to avert the beatings of
gay-rights demonstrators. The unwillingness of law
enforcement to intervene caused him and members of the pop
music group t.A.T.u. to flee the scene of the march at one
point. Mitrofanov said he attended the march because "seven
percent" of his electorate is gay or supports gay rights.
His efforts to have a representative of Mayor Luzhkov's
office accept a petition about the march signed, he said, by
fifty Europarliamentarians were ignored.


11. (SBU) The events of May 27 suggest that there is at least
the passive cooperation of the security forces and
nationalist groups in stanching protests by a group that
enjoys little popular support. The muted response of the
Russian human rights community to this unsettling practice
reflects the widespread homophobia in Russian society and the
difficult path facing gay rights activists.

© Scoop Media

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