Dozens arrested, including Americans, during illegal gay rights demonstration in Moscow
MOSCOW (BNO NEWS) -- Dozens of people were arrested during an illegal gay rights demonstration in the Russian capital on Saturday, local media reported on Sunday.
The demonstration took place in central Moscow near the Kremlin on Saturday morning, even though city officials had earlier rejected an application by the organizers to hold the gay rights rally. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights are a controversial issue in Russia.
According to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency, 34 people were arrested during the rally which was broken up by anti-gay rights protesters. "Eighteen activists of the so-called gay movement and 16 opponents of holding a minority's parade were [also] arrested," a police spokesman told the news agency.
Before the rally, Moscow police had warned that it would cut short any "unlawful actions", as no permit was given to hold the demonstration. Former Moscow mayor Yury Luzkhov last year called gay parades 'satanic'.
"We have banned such parades and will ban them in the future as well. Everyone must accept this not as a theorem but as an axiom. We cannot complacently watch numerous displays of blasphemy under the guise of creative work or freedom of speech," Luzkhov was quoted as saying in January 2010.
The LGBT community was initially hopeful that things could change when Luzkhov was forced to leave office, but current Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has taken a similar stance. "Moscow does not need this at all and I am not a supporter [of gay parades]," Sobyanin told RIA Novosti in February.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said American citizens were among those arrested during the rally on Saturday. "We note with concern that in Moscow on Saturday, May 28, a peaceable demonstration of Russians advocating for the rights of gays and lesbians, joined by international supporters, was forcefully disrupted by counter-protesters, and that Russian security forces then detained people from both groups, including American citizens," Toner said.
The U.S. spokesman said freedom of assembly is a fundamental right which all members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), including Russia, committed to.
"As nationwide legislative elections approach, constraints on the ability of Russian citizens peacefully to gather and express their views will be closely watched in evaluating the integrity of the electoral process," Toner said. "We call on Russian authorities to work with municipal officials to find better ways to safeguard these fundamental freedoms."
Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia had violated the rights of gay activists by refusing to allow them to openly protest and ordered the Russian government to pay a fine of around $40,000.
Russia does not recognize same-sex relationships, although there are no specific laws against the LGBT community. Homosexuality was until 1999 classified as a mental illness in the country.
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