Gay rights face old threats in new Europe

The Gay Pride march in Riga on Saturday (31 May) may have passed largely without incident, but elsewhere in Europe, the right of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people to claim their rights and celebrate their identity is under threat. Hundreds of people, including Amnesty International activists from 30 countries, joined the celebratory Riga Pride parade through Latvia’s capital, protected from counter-protesters by police. Yet a similar event in Moscow has been banned by the city’s mayor for the third year running. And in Turkey, leading LGBT rights group Lambda Istanbul has been banned by a court ruling. On Sunday 1 June, gay rights activists in Moscow staged a protest against Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s ban. They managed to hang a large banner from the window of a flat near the mayor’s office in the city centre. The banner read “rights for gays and lesbians, homophobic Mayor Luzhkov to court”. According to official information, 36 people were preventatively detained by police. Most of them were opponents of LGBT rights action. None were charged. At least one gay rights activist was attacked and kicked to the ground. From late April onwards, gay rights activists had applied to the Mayor’s office for permission to hold a march or a meeting. According to Nikolai Alekseev, the main organizer of gay rights parades, 155 applications were handed in. None were sanctioned by the authorities. Under Russian law, authorities can’t simply ban a public meeting, unless that meeting is against the laws and constitution of the Russian Federation. The authorities can propose a different date, a different location and have to provide reasonable arguments as to why they propose these changes. The Moscow authorities did not do this. In Turkey on 29 May, the Third Civil Court of First Instance in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul ruled in favour of a complaint brought by the Istanbul Governor’s Office, and ordered the closing of Lambda Istanbul, a group advocating LGBT people’s human rights. The complaint, made in early 2007, claimed that the name and objectives of the group were offensive to Turkish “moral values and its family structure.” In July 2007, the local Prosecutor’s Office rejected the complaint, but the Governor’s Office took the case to the courts. The court conducted six hearings before issuing its verdict.    Turkish authorities have targeted other LGBT organizations in recent years. In September 2005, the Ankara Governor’s Office accused the Ankara-based group KAOS-GL of “establishing an organization that is against the laws and principles of morality.” Similarly, the Ankara Governor’s Office attempted in July 2006 to close the human rights group Pembe Hayat (Pink Life), which works with transgender people, claiming that the association opposed “morality and family structure.” In both cases, prosecutors dropped the charges. On 30 May, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Lluís Maria de Puig, expressed his concern after the banning of Lambda Istanbul. “The arguments put forward by the prosecutor, reportedly leading to the closure of the association Lambda Istanbul whose activities were held to infringe the laws on public morality, are puzzling to me,” said Mr de Puig. “Freedom of expression and freedom of association are enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, which Turkey has ratified as a member of the Council of Europe. Thus any person, whether lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, has the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, without discrimination. It rests with the authorities to ensure that everyone can exercise these rights,” said Mr de Puig. Lambda Istanbul will not be closed down until a final decision by the Supreme Court of Appeals. The group can continue to operate in the mean time and has announced its intention to fight the ban. According to its website, Lambda is planning to stage a demonstration on Saturday 7 June.