European rights court slams Moscow for Gay Pride ban

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Europe's rights court criticised Russian authorities on Thursday for banning Gay Pride marches in Moscow, and condemned the capital's former mayor for describing the marches as "satanic".

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered Russia to pay 12,000 euros (16,600 dollars) to gay campaigner Nikolai Alexeyev in damages, and a further 17,500 euros in costs.

Alexeyev had told the court he and fellow organisers were repeatedly denied permission to hold Gay Pride marches in 2006, 2007 and 2008 despite complying with safety and rules.

Furthermore, he claimed organisers were the victims of anti-gay publicity campaigns, and the marches were targeted because of participants' sexual orientation.

The court ruled that Alexeyev was a victim of discrimination, and Moscow authorities lacked sufficient grounds to ban the parades.

"The mere risk of a demonstration creating a disturbance was not sufficient to justify its ban," the court said in its ruling.

"The considerations of safety had been of secondary importance for the decisions of the authorities who had been mainly guided by the prevailing moral values of the majority," the ruling said.

"This is a historic decision as we are the first human rights defenders in Russia to have the right to liberty of expression recognised thanks to the European court," Alexeyev told AFP in Moscow Thursday.

"It's equally a victory for the liberal opposition whose demonstrations have been systematically dispersed by the security forces," he added.

The ruling also singled out comments made by openly homophobic former mayor Yury Luzhkov, who infamously described Gay Pride marches as "satanic".

"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," the ruling said.

Luzhkov was sacked at the end of September by President Dmitry Medvedev and within days gay rights activists said they had been able to hold a peaceful demonstration with the protection of the police, who detained at least two counter-protesters.

Alexeyev vowed that activists would hold a major Gay Pride rally in Moscow on May 28 next year and expressed hope that new Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin, inaugurated Thursday, would allow it to proceed peacefully.

"We hope that the new mayor of Moscow will learn from the errors of his predecessor," Alexeyev added.


© 2010 AFP

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