Russian authorities must launch a full investigation into the attacks on gay pride activists in Moscow last weekend, a human rights group demanded today.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the investigation must also encompass the police response to the attacks and drop charges against participants in pride events for taking part in “an unsanctioned demonstration.”

The group documented the violence in a briefing paper released today, and called on Russian officials to fulfil their obligation to protect human rights by refraining from homophobic rhetoric and ensuring that freedoms of expression and assembly are upheld.

“Victims of prejudice and violence deserve full justice,” said Scott Long, director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights programme at Human Rights Watch, who witnessed the events in Moscow first-hand.

“The authorities in Moscow have endorsed discrimination and fostered an environment that allowed hatred to rise. Now they must investigate these attacks, and ensure that civil liberties and personal security are not hostage to homophobia.”

Russian lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, accompanied by Russian and foreign supporters, sought to hold two successive protest rallies, one to lay flowers on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin Wall, and the second a vigil at City Hall in support of freedoms of assembly and expression. Organisers of Moscow’s lesbian and gay pride festival decided to hold these events after a court upheld Mayor Yuri Luzkhov’s ban on a pride march planned for that day.

At the sites of both events, hundreds of anti-gay protesters, including skinheads, nationalists, and Orthodox followers, attacked the participants, beating and kicking many, while throwing projectiles and chanting, “Russia free of faggots! Death to sodomites!”

Skinheads punched Volker Beck, a gay member of the German parliament, and struck him with a rock, injuring his eye. Police briefly detained Mr Beck. Others detained included parade organisers Nikolai Alexeyev and Yevgenia Debrianskaia.

“At both sites police at first seemed to allow the skinheads and others free rein to assault lesbians and gays,” said Mr Long. “When police finally intervened, they forced the two groups closer together, aggravating the violence. They failed totally to protect people peacefully trying to exercise their rights.”

Mr Luzhkov formally banned the parade claiming it would cause violent protests. He is also reported to have said: “If any one has any deviations from normal principles in organizing one’s sexual life, those deviations should not be exhibited for all to see.”

“Instead of leading Muscovites to embrace equality, Mayor Luzhkov supported and promoted homophobia,” said Mr Long.

“Given this failure of leadership, the violent ending should surprise no one.”

Internal documents from the mayor’s office allegedly seen by Human Rights Watch indicate the office sponsored a sustained campaign against measures in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons. In one document, dated March 2006, Mr Luzhkov advised subordinates that: “It is necessary to take concrete measures to prevent holding public and mass gay events in the capital.” He instructed them to: “Organise an active campaign in the mass media using appeals from citizens and religious and public organisations.”

In another memorandum, the group claims deputy mayor Liudmila Shvetsova told the mayor, “A law can be promulgated to limit the rights or freedoms of [gay or lesbian] people.” She urged that “the competent executive bodies… identify concrete measures for banning any actions, including public ones, involving propaganda and holding gay festivals or gay parades.”