Marchers arrested at banned St. Petersburg, Russia, pride parade

by Rex Wockner

International News

Twenty-five gays and lesbians staged a pride parade in St. Petersburg, Russia, on June 26 although the city government had banned the march. Police broke up the gathering and arrested five participants.

The march began in the courtyard of the famed State Hermitage Museum and made it as far as the entrance to Winter Palace Square before police swooped in.

Hundreds of tourists were unwitting observers of the parade.

The marchers chanted: "Gay equality, no compromise," "Homophobia: shame of this country," "Homophobia is a disease" and "Marriage rights for all."

One marcher carried a sign that said "Peter I was bisexual."

"The city and the country refused to recognize us as equal to other citizens of this country and that is what we came to denounce today at Winter Palace Square," organizer Maria Efremenkova told fellow activists just before police took her into custody.

Also arrested were co-organizers Yuri Gavrikov and Alexander Sheremet, Belarusian activist Sergey Androsenko and Moscow activist Anna Komarova.

They were charged with organizing an unauthorized public action and were released after several hours. They could be jailed for 15 days if found guilty.

The other marchers apparently escaped arrest by mingling with tourists.

Efremenkova had sought a city permit to hold the parade and submitted more than 10 proposed routes. All were rejected under varying pretexts. She said pride organizers will sue over the denials, taking the case as far as the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.

"Right to freedom of assembly is guaranteed in Russia by Article 31 of the constitution as well as the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights, which are two international treaties ratified by our country," Efremenkova said.

"Despite the pressure from the authorities and from the nationalist and religious groups, we held our action today," she added. "We are only at the beginning of a long road before we manage to get implemented civil and political rights of sexual minorities in Russia."

Shortly after police aborted the march, 70 anti-gay skinheads and other troublemakers appeared on the scene, some carrying baseball bats. Twenty-two of them were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

There is video of the parade at http://tinyurl.com/sppride.

Gay parades also have been banned in Moscow. Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has prohibited pride for five years in a row, calling gay marches "satanic." Small groups of activists have defied the bans and have been attacked and beaten by police and anti-gay protesters.

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