Demonstrators picketed the Russian Embassy in London today in protest at the ban on the Moscow Gay Pride parade by the city’s mayor. They also condemned the threats of violence against the Pride marchers by Russian religious leaders.

Today’s London protest coincided with simultaneous protests Paris, Stockholm, Vienna and Warsaw.

The protest in London was coordinated by the organisers of the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), together with the gay human rights group OutRage! and the Gay Lesbian Humanist Association (GLHA.)

Protest coordinator, Derek Lennard, of the GLHA , who is also the UK coordinator of the International Day Against Homophobia, said: “The ban on Moscow Gay Pride is outrageous censorship. It is a violation of the Russian constitution. Regardless of the wishes of the Mayor of Moscow and bigoted religious leaders, Moscow Gay Pride will go ahead in May. If necessary, we will help the Russian gay movement challenge this ban in the courts.

“We extend our solidarity to Russian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Their struggle is our struggle,” said Mr Lennard.

Peter Tatchell of the gay human rights group, OutRage!, added: “The Mayor of Moscow says he supports democracy. We ask him to prove it by giving the go ahead to Moscow Gay Pride. Democracy means respecting the rights of minorities.”

“Who does Luzhkov think he is? Joseph Stalin? Someone should remind Yuri that the anti-gay Soviet Union is dead. Russia is a democracy and in a democracy people have a right to protest peacefully.”

The Moscow Gay Pride parade is scheduled to take place on 27 May, the anniversary of the 1993 abolition of Soviet era laws against male homosexuality.

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has announced that the city government will not allow a gay parade “in any form” and any attempt to hold a gay event will be “resolutely quashed.”

The Mayor’s statements were followed by the Russian Chief Mufti threatening violence if the Pride parade went ahead. Chief Mufti of Russia’s Central Spiritual Governance for Muslims

Talgat Tajuddin said: “Muslims’ protests can be even worse than these notorious rallies

abroad over the scandalous cartoons,” Chief Mufti of Russia’s Central Spiritual Governance for Muslims.

“The parade should not be allowed, and if they still come out into the streets, then they should be bashed. Sexual minorities have no rights, because they have crossed the line.

Alternative sexuality is a crime against God.”.

A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, which has since lobbied the Moscow Mayor to ban the parade, spoke out against Moscow Pride, telling various media outlets that homosexuality is a “sin which destroys human beings and condemns them to a spiritual death.”

Russian Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar said that if a gay pride was allowed to go ahead it “would be a blow for morality”. He stopped short of calling for violence, but the Jewish community would

not stand by silently. “Sexual perversions”, he said, did not have a right to exist. Lazar said that gay pride marches were “a provocation” similar to cartoon depictions of Mohammed.

Moscow Pride organisers, meanwhile, have said that attempts to prevent the march will be challenged with court action, if necessary, all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

More Europe-wide vigils and marches are planned in the coming weeks to protest against attempts by the Moscow government and religious leaders to stop the Pride celebrations going ahead.

Russian gay and lesbian activists announced in July that they would apply for a permit to hold pride celebrations in Moscow in May. If it is granted, it would be the first Gay Pride parade ever held in the Russian capital.

Moscow Pride is scheduled for the week after the start of the Russian Presidency in the Council of Europe and just before the summit of G8 leaders in St Petersburg. President Putin has not commented on Pride or the threats of violence from religious leaders.