Police Forcefully Break Up Gay Rights Protest
Published: May 19, 2009 (Issue # 1475)
MOSCOW — An attempted gay rights protest on Saturday was swiftly broken up by OMON troops, who dragged protesters into police vans.
More than 30 protesters were detained, including Peter Tatchell, a prominent British gay rights activist, Andy Thayer, an activist from Chicago’s Gay Liberation Network, and the organizer, Nikolai Alexeyev.
The unsanctioned protest, called Slavic Pride, was originally announced as taking place at Novopushkinsky Skver in central Moscow, but organizers changed the location at the last moment to the Vorobyovy Gory viewpoint near Moscow State University, a popular spot for wedding photographs.
Police learned of the plans and detained almost half the activists as they arrived at about noon, organizers said. More than 30 OMON troops turned up, in at least three vans.
A handful of protesters including Tatchell and Edvard Murzin, a heterosexual human rights activist, unfurled banners and shouted slogans including, “No compromises! Equal rights! Homophobia is a national disgrace!” Minutes later, OMON troops hurled themselves through a hedge and grabbed protesters, including Tatchell, who was dragged to the ground. As Tatchell was bundled into a police car, he called out, “Russian people don’t have freedom.”
The protest was filmed by television crews, including state-financed Russia Today.
The OMON troops were “needlessly violent,” Tatchell said Sunday. “I had my arm badly twisted up behind my back and they also twisted my wrist ... causing extreme pain.”
Tatchell was taken to the Ramenki police station but released without charges later Saturday after a British Embassy official arrived and Tatchell displayed a press pass, he said.
Organizer Alexeyev arrived separately, walking arm in arm with a drag queen in a wedding dress. Two burly OMON officers began questioning him. Alexeyev asked what offense he was committing, and one said, “We have reason to think that you are going for a walk with a man dressed up as a woman.” Minutes later, both were detained. The man in drag threw his bouquet at a plainclothed official.
The OMON went on to pick up protesters including Irina Fedotova-Fet and Thayer, both of whom were standing alone and talking to journalists. Fedotova-Fet attempted to register a same-sex marriage with her girlfriend Tuesday.
Another female protester, Ksenia Prilepskaya, was dragged into a police van; her clothes were roughly pulled off by OMON troops and her glasses were broken. The organizers’ web site, Gayrussia.ru, reported Sunday that she had suffered a suspected concussion.
A police spokesman said about 40 people were arrested around the city, both at Vorobyovy Gory and at Novopushkinsky Skver.
Prilepskaya said Saturday afternoon that she was being held at the Ramenki police station with 32 people, including Tatchell, Thayer, Alexeyev and 10 to 15 Belarussians.
The Belarussians were freed at about 2 a.m. Seven others were still held after that, including Alexeyev.
Alexeyev told The Moscow Times that he was freed at about noon Sunday after being held for almost 24 hours. He will go to court on May 26 on charges of organizing an illegal protest, he said. The other protesters were fined 500 to 1,000 rubles ($17 to $34).
Alexeyev said he was held separately from the other protesters and interrogated for six hours by FSB officers.
“They insulted me in all possible ways,” he said, adding that they used homophobic insults and psychological pressure but no physical violence.