Europe

Russian ‘cat and mouse’ game targets LGBT protesters

Protesters from Coming Out, shortly before their arrest on July 12 at Marsovo Polye in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Protesters from Coming Out, shortly before their arrest on July 12 at Marsovo Polye in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The government of St. Petersburg has begun routinely denying freedom of assembly for Russian LGBT activists, the LGBT rights organization Coming Out reports.

The situation has deteriorated sharply from previous years. The group states:

Freedom of assembly in St. Petersburg:
A game of cat and mouse

Marsovo Polye (the Field of Mars)  is supposed to be the place where public rallies can be organized. It’s the “Hyde Park” of St. Petersburg.  Supposedly, all one needs to do is notify the administration.

But in reality, the administration is using all possible loopholes to violate activists’ rights to freedom of assembly in a game of “cat and mouse.”

The government issued a denial in response to the first notification by Coming Out that it planned a rally on Marsovo Polye. Organizers were told that the time was taken up by a mass cultural event. They were invited to apply for the next day.

Activists immediately submitted a new application and again received the response that the space -– oops — again was already taken, and the next day was again suggested. This cycle repeated itself 11 times.

A court ruled that the administration’s reply was not a “ban.” Activists monitored the site every day a “mass cultural event” was supposed to take place there. This, or similar to this, is what activists saw:

Empty field at Marsovo Polye in St. Petersburg, Russia, on a day when LGBT activists were denied permission to protest there because the field supposedly was already full.

Empty field at Marsovo Polye in St. Petersburg, Russia, on a day when LGBT activists were denied permission to protest there because the field supposedly was already full.

Activists notified police of the court’s ruling and their intent to exercise their right to assembly. The reply from the police was straightforward:

“If you come out, you will be detained.”

On July 12, two activists went to Marsovo Polye with a rainbow flag and posters reading:

  • COMING OUT for Freedom of Assembly” and
  • 11 Applications from LGBT Movement, 11 Excuses from the Administration. We Have the Right to Be Here.

The activists were detained and charged with violating article 20.2 on organizing public rallies, as police said that they “participated in action without receiving approval, impeded carrying out of a sports event, and refused to comply with the police directive to stop the action.” Fines for those violations are as much as 30,000 rubles (425 euros or US $470) each.

The next step is litigation to demonstrate unequivocally that, under the current legislation and administrative practice, it is impossible to realize the constitutional right to freedom of assembly.

The action generated a lot of local media interest as well as attention from the St. Petersburg ombudsman for human rights, whose position is aligned with that of the activists.

Protester from Coming Out, shortly before arrests began on July 12 at Marsovo Polye in St. Petersburg, Russia.

““COMING OUT for Freedom of Assembly” reads the LGBT rights protester’s sign shortly before arrests began on July 12 at Marsovo Polye in St. Petersburg, Russia.

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