Moscow police collude with neo-Nazis

This is a guest post by Peter Tatchell, who reports from the Moscow Gay Pride protest group on Saturday 28 May 2011.

We witnessed a high level of fraternisation and collusion between neo-Nazis and the Moscow police. I saw neo-Nazis leave and re-enter police buses parked on Tverskaya Street by City Hall. Russian TV presenter on channel “TV-Centre’, Olga Bakushinskaya, blogged that she also saw right-wing extremists arriving at City Hall in police buses and liaising openly with the riot police, the Omon.

Either the police were actively facilitating the right-wing extremists with transport to the protest or many of the neo-Nazis were actually plainclothes police officers. They did to us what their uniformed colleagues dared not do in front of the world’s media: give many of us a nasty beating.

During the Second World War, Muscovites fought the Nazi onslaught. Now the Mayor of Moscow is colluding with neo-Nazis. He gave neo-Nazi groups permission to stage a protest calling for violence against gay people, while denying Moscow Gay Pride a permit to rally for gay equality. This is a shameful betrayal of Moscow’s proud anti-fascist traditions.

I went to City Hall to protest but was separated from our Moscow Gay Pride group. Neo-Nazis identified me for attack. Being alone and with the police refusing to protect us, I had to escape down alleyways to avoid a beating. I was not arrested.

By banning Moscow Gay Pride, Russia has defied a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that it must be allowed to proceed. Some of us now plan to press the Council of Europe to suspend Russia’s right to vote in the Council’s parliamentary assembly. Russia must not be permitted to defy the European Court with impunity.

Prior to the staging of Moscow Gay Pride, the ban was condemned by the Council of Europe’s Secretary-General, Thorbjorn Jagland, and its Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg.

Our protest was about more than gay equality. We were also defending the right of all Russians to freedom of expression and peaceful protest. We express our support for every Russian person whose right to protest has been denied. As well as demanding gay human rights, we demand human rights for all Russia’s minorities, including Jewish, Black, Roma, Asian and Muslim people.

“A total of 18 gay rights protesters – 15 of them Russian – were arrested, as they tried to stage the banned Moscow Gay Pride parade on Saturday. All were roughly manhandled by the police. Some were homophobically abused by officers.

“One Moscow Gay Pride participant was so badly beaten that she remains injured in Botkin hospital. Journalist Elena Kostyuchenko, of Novoya Gazeta, attended in solidarity with gay Russians. She was badly beaten by Russian religious and nationalist fanatics and is expected to stay in hospital for several days.

Some of the Moscow Gay Pride participants were seized by police near the Kremlin, including three international gay rights supporters, Andy Thayer and Lt Dan Choi from the US, and Louis-Georges Tin from France; plus Moscow Gay Pride committee member, Anna Komarova and other Russian gay activists. Anna was forced to ground by police and kicked in the head.

The rest of the arrested Russian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) campaigners were grabbed by police outside City Hall after unfurling rainbow flags and placards calling for gay human rights.

Lt. Dan Choi, a US military officer who was dismissed from the American armed forces because of his homosexuality, was violently wrestled to the ground by the police and then punched and kicked.

Louis-Georges Tin, the French founder and President of the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) Committee was also mistreated by the police, as he recalls here:

“I was aggressively arrested and taken to a police van where I was put in solitary confinement in a small metal cupboard-like cell. It was dark, hot and suffocating inside. I could hardly breathe. I was locked in there for one hour. The police repeatedly called me a “fucking faggot” and other insults in Russian.”

Lt. Dan Choi was also placed in solitary confinement in the police van. The only two protesters subjected to solitary confinement were non-white: Louis-Georges Tin and Lt Dan Choi. It smacks of racism.

Neo-Nazis made repeated attempts to bash the LGBT campaigners as they were being arrested and taken to police buses. Some of the campaigners were struck but none were hurt seriously.

Following her arrest, Anna Komarova was pressured by the police to give information about the organisation of Moscow Gay Pride. The police threatened to detain her for 48 hours unless she gave them the information they wanted. She refused and was eventually released after being issued with a fine.

By 6pm Moscow time on Saturday, all 18 arrested gay pride protesters had been released.

Neither of the Moscow Gay Pride lead organisers, Nikolai Alekseev nor Nikolai Baev, were arrested. Mr Alekseev did not participate in the protests, as he had a bad leg injury from a fall as he left Moscow TV studios on Thursday night.