The mayor of Moscow’s plans to ban the city’s gay pride march are a threat to civil liberties and civil society, according to a human rights group.

Human Rights Watch has written a letter to the mayor, Yuri Luzhkov calling on him to let the parade go ahead on the scheduled date of May 27. The document accuses him of inhibting freedom of expression and promoting prejudice.

Scott Long, director of the group’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender section said: “Mayor Luzhkov is giving prejudice a veto over the rights to peaceful expression and assembly. The freedom to speak out and demonstrate publicly is not just a reflection of diversity. It is essential to democracy.”

The mayor’s spokesman, Sergey Tsoy, has already insisted that the city would never consider allowing a parade, “The Moscow government is not even going to consider allowing a gay parade.” He claimed that the proposed event has “evoked outrage in society, in particular among religious leaders.”

Mr Tsoy said the mayor “was firm that the city government will not allow a gay parade in any form, open or disguised, and any attempts to organize an unsanctioned action will be resolutely quashed.”

Many Russian politicians have supported the ban, Lubyov Sliska, vice-speaker of the State Duma, said: “Some say that the ban on the gay parade does not correspond to human rights. There are several million people in Moscow who do not want homosexuals to have this procession. Who is going to protect their rights?”

In January the European Parliament responded to increasing anti gay measures in Eastern Europe with a resolution condemning prohibitions on gay marches, as well as “incitement to hatred and violence.”

“Human rights are not a popularity contest,” said Mr Long. “Letting this march proceed is an international obligation. If prejudice is allowed to trump the rights that all citizens should enjoy, then everyone’s freedoms are ultimately endangered.”

Further protests against the ban are planned outside Russian embassies in London, Paris, Warsaw and Stockholm on Thursday.