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Peter Tatchell / Human Rights Activist News Wire


Russia's new police state

Moscow police collude with fascists and right-wing nationalists

Behind the violent scenes

The physical injuries I sustained in Moscow are nothing in comparison
to the beatings inflicted on others in Russia. They sometimes end up
dead.

By Peter Tatchell

reprinted from The Guardian – Comment Is Free – 1 June 2007

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/peter_tatchell/2007/06/russias_new_police_state.html



The recent suppression of Moscow Gay Pride is further evidence that
Russia is fast reverting to autocracy and authoritarianism. The
post-communist democratic opening of the early 1990s is no more.

Despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and the
right to protest, these liberties are now largely dependent on the
whim and fancy of the Kremlin leaders. Under strongman President
Vladimir Putin, the Russian regime has more than a whiff of old-style
Stalinism. This is evident in the repeated suppression of democracy
activists like Garry Kasparov and the banning of the anti-war,
pro-human rights Russian-Chechen Friendship Society.

Two weekend's ago, at Moscow Gay Pride, I witnessed firsthand Russia's
retreat from democracy. I suffered the violent effects of government
and police collusion with right-wing extremists.

The Moscow police and Russia's elite anti-riot squad, the OMOH, not
only failed to protect the Gay Pride marchers against violent attack,
they also failed to arrest the attackers. Although we were battered
left, right and centre, the police arrested only a handful of the
assailants – and most them were quickly released, often without
charge.

Indeed, there is now plentiful evidence of complicity between the
police and the far right. The fascists were, in effect, given a free
hand to do what the police wanted to do, but dared not do in front of
the world's media: give the queers a good thrashing.

The whole sorry saga began when the Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov,
issued an order in mid-May prohibiting the Gay Pride march. He warned
that the full power of the state would be deployed to ensure it did
not happen. What was he afraid of? How could a few dozen Gay Pride
marchers be a threat to anyone, let alone the mighty Russian state?

Luzhkov pressed ahead with his ban, even though the right to peaceful
protest is guaranteed by Russian law and even though the European
Court of Human Rights had only two weeks earlier declared illegal a
similar ban on a Gay Pride march in Warsaw.

I went to Moscow, at the request of the Moscow Gay Pride organizers,
to show solidarity with the campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender human rights in Russia. It was hoped that the presence of
international supporters like myself would encourage the Moscow
authorities to be less repressive. We were wrong.

Given the march ban and the Mayor's threats, unsurprisingly only 40
people dared join the Gay Pride rally outside City Hall, on Moscow's
main street, Tverskaya.

Our attempt to hand in a letter of protest to Mayor Luzhkov was too
much for the authorities. Delivering a protest letter is apparently
illegal in Putin's Russia. The organiser of Moscow Gay Pride, Nikolai
Alekseev, was immediately arrested and roughly shoved into a police
van. The police tried to grab the rest of us. I managed to escape the
snatch squads.

What happened next was illuminating. As if on some pre-arranged
signal, the police seemed to pull back. From behind the police lines,
hordes of neo-Nazis, ultra-nationalists and religious fanatics stormed
through and laid into us, punching and kicking. They gave Nazi salutes
and snarled their chilling chants: "Moscow is not Sodom" and "Death to
homosexuals." The police and OMOH stood by and watched.

When I held up a placard reading "Gay Rights," written in both Russian
and English,
I was punched in the right eye and almost knocked unconscious. The
fascists then dragged me to ground. I was kicked head to toe. Dozens
of police saw this happen. They did not intervene. Well, not
initially. When they eventually decided to act, it was to arrest me –
not my assailants. The right-wing thugs were allowed to walk away.

There were hundreds of police on duty. They could have easily stopped
the neo-Nazis from coming within 100 yards of us. But they didn't. I
can only presume this denial of police protection was a deliberate,
official decision.

Several times I saw OMOH and police officers openly fraternising with
far right militants. They were chatting, as if they knew each other.
In one instance, I observed a police officer pointing out to
homophobic extremists the direction in which some of our Gay Pride
participants had fled. The extremists then stormed off up the street
and attacked our people. It looked like the police were encouraging
and helping the right-wingers to bash us.

A similar collusion was also witnessed by Scott Long, an international
monitor from Human Rights Watch in New York. He told a press
conference at the offices of the Helsinki Monitoring Group in Moscow
that he witnessed police and right-wingers cooperating in identifying
and pointing out Gay Pride campaigners, who were then either bashed or
arrested.

Russian activists have since suggested to me that some of the
attackers may have been plain clothes police officers, acting as agent
provocateurs. They say it is a favourite Kremlin tactic against
democracy and human rights activists. I am not sure. But I did see men
in civilian gear, who had been part of the rightist mob, go behind the
police buses and converse with police and OMOH. Perhaps my Russians
friends are right. Some of the right-wing thugs may have been
undercover police who were doing in civilian clothes what they could
not be seen to do in police uniforms - batter the queers.

When I was arrested, riot squad officers frog-marched me to a police
bus. In what felt like a deliberate act of intimidation, I was forced
to sit next to three neo-Nazis who had been arrested during earlier
incidents.

The riot police abused me as a "faggot". They also demanded to know
whether I was gay. I hesitated for a moment, fearing the consequences
if I admitted my homosexuality. When I answered that I am gay, one of
the OMOH officers whacked his truncheon into his hand and boasted:
"Wait until we get you to the police station. Then we will have some
fun with you." He was obviously not planning to offer me tea and
biscuits.

Soon after my beating and arrest, the Moscow police began a damage
limitation exercise. They put out a statement claiming that I had
been detained for my own protection and that my assailant had been
arrested. According to the International Herald Tribune: "The police
arrested the assailant and took Tatchell to a police van for his
protection, said Evgeni Gildeyev, a spokesman with the Moscow police."

This claim is not true, according to the officer investigating my
assault, Evgeni Guskov, who is based at Moscow's Tverskaya police
station. He told me that my assailant is unknown and has not been
arrested.

While the Moscow police have now opened a criminal investigation into
the assault on me, I suspect it is largely a PR exercise to give the
impression that they are doing something. I don't expect the
perpetrator will be arrested. Too many Moscow police are homophobes
and fascist sympathisers. They failed to protect us against neo-Nazi
violence and they failed to arrest the thugs who attacked us.

At last year's attempted Moscow Gay Pride march, the German Green
Party MP, Volker Beck, was struck in the face by a rock thrown by a
right-wing extremist. The assailant was filmed attacking Mr. Beck. In
the Russian edition of Newsweek, he was named and was quoted as
boasting that he threw the rock. He has never been arrested, let alone
bought to court. The Moscow authorities protect the far right, even
when they commit violent hate crimes and make a public confession.

I got off lightly. A bit of concussion, which is slightly affecting my
balance, coordination, memory and concentration. The vision in my
right eye is still blurred, and I've got bruises and abrasions all
over my body. But no serious injuries. I am alive. Doctors say I
should make a full recovery in a few weeks time.

My physical inconveniences are nothing by comparison to the far worse
beatings inflicted on Russian human rights defenders, investigative
journalists, environmental activists and campaigners against the war
in Chechnya. They sometimes end up dead.

Do I have any regrets? Well, getting a thrashing was not what I had
expected or wanted. But I was aware of the risks. Taking risks is
sometimes necessary, in order to challenge injustice. Perversely, my
beating had the positive effect of helping expose the violent,
repressive nature of Putin's and Luzhkov's rule.

Moreover, what began as a protest about lesbian and gay human rights
turned into something much bigger. We ended up defending the right to
freedom of expression and peaceful protest. These are freedoms worth
defending - for all Russians, gay and straight.

--
Peter Tatchell is the Green Party parliamentary candidate for Oxford East
http://www.greenoxford.com and http://www.petertatchell.net


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