“I’m not deterred one iota from coming back to protest in Moscow,” Peter Tatchell told PinkNews.co.uk from Moscow, just hours after he was attacked by suspected neo-Nazis and then arrested by the Russian riot police the OMON. “Gay Russians need overseas support to protect them against state and neo-Nazi violence.”
He was speaking after arrests and violent attacks marred today’s attempted Moscow Gay Pride march. The organizer of Moscow Pride, Nikolai Alekseev, is still being detained at Moscow’s Tverskoi district police station, together with two prominent members of Russia’s Radical and Free Radical parties, Nikolai Khramov and Sergei Konstantinov. Those who attacked Mr Tatchell are believed to be free, while Mr Alekseev, who took part in a peaceful protest remains in police custody
Mr Tatchell told PinkNews.co.uk: “I urge people to protest to the Russian Ambassador and to ask their local MP to send a letter of protest to the Russian embassy.”
He added: “We also need a strong statement of condemnation from the Foreign Office, who have so far been silent. I am a British citizen violently attacked when mounting a lawful protests whilst the Russian police allowed violence to be perpetrated against me.”
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “We condemn violence in any form, but in this particular case we need to ascertain the full facts before making any further comment.”
Mr Tatchell told PinkNews.co.uk:
“There is no rule of law in Moscow. The right to protest does not exist. This is not a democracy.
“Today’s protest was about much more than gay rights. We were defending the right to freedom of expression and peaceful protest for all Russians, gay and straight.
“The ban on Moscow Gay Pride is one aspect of a much wider attack on civil society and human rights. It is evidence of a failed transition from communism to democracy and of a rising trend towards autocracy and authoritarianism,” he added.
The arrests and assaults took place in front of and opposite Moscow City Hall, as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) campaigners assembled to hold Moscow’s Gay Pride march.
The first people arrested were Mr Alekseev and German Green Party Member of Parliament Volker Beck. They were seized as they attempted to deliver a letter to Moscow Mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, at City Hall.
“After they were driven away in a police bus, marauding gangs of right-wing extremists infiltrated the Gay Pride crowd and began indiscriminately attacking participants. The Moscow police looked on and did nothing,” recounted Mr Tatchell.
After unfurling a characteristic placard declaring “GayRights” in both English and Russian, he was attacked by people he suspects of being right-wing extremists. Mr Tatchell said that Moscow riot police, the OMON, stood by while as these people punched Mr Tatchell in the face, throttled him then dragged him to the ground, and kicked him all over his body.
Clutching a bloody eye, he was arrested by the riot police. “They arrested me, but let my attackers walk free.”
“The Moscow police gave right-wing extremists a more or less free hand to attack Gay Pride marchers. Despite many of us being battered left, right and centre, the police only arrested a handful of the assailants.
“Instead of protecting us from the violence, some officers seemed to be colluding with the neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists. I saw them freely talking to each other. It has even been suggested that some of the attackers were, in fact, plain clothes police officers,” Mr Tatchell reported.
Following his arrest, Mr Tatchell says he was violently dragged to a police bus, where he was put in the intimidating situation of being detained with three anti-gay demonstrators, who had been arrested for other assaults.
“They forced me to sit together with the neo-Nazis, it was clearly an intimidation tactic by the OMON, riot police, they are the ones who detained me in their bus.” Mr Tatchell told PinkNews.co.uk
While in the bus, Mr Tatchell was taunted by members of the riot police. They interrogated him as to whether he was gay. When he answered yes, he says that one of the OMON officers said, “Wait until we get you to the police station. Then we will have some fun with you.”
Later Mr Tatchell was transferred to an ambulance and taken to hospital where he was treated for injuries to his right eye.
“My face is very sore where I was punched. My right eye is badly bruised, swollen and bloodied.” Speaking to PinkNews.co.uk 10 hours after the attack, he said: “it hurts. It happens to be the same eye that was I was punched in by Robert Mugabe’s violent henchmen in Brussels six years ago.” Mr Tatchell still suffers from sight and pain problems from the Brussels attack.
He was discharged at approximately 3:30 pm, and then detained at the Tverskoi district police station in Moscow. Mr Tatchell filed a complaint with the Moscow police about the assault on him, requesting that officers investigate and arrest the assailants.
“Despite the appalling behaviour of the riot squad and Moscow police, the officer investigating my complaint was diligent, fair and professional.”
At 4:30 pm Mr Tatchell was allowed to leave the police station on the condition that he report back to the Tverskoi district station at 2 pm on Monday, 28 May. At this stage, Mr Tatchell believes he is being treated as a witness to the attack on him, rather than as a suspect.
“As I left the police station with several other released Gay Pride marchers, we were pelted with eggs. Some of us were violently attacked by a man dressed as a Russian Orthodox priest and by several neo-Nazis. The Moscow police initially did nothing, and only arrested two of the assailants under pressure from the Gay Pride marchers and journalists, who had photos and film footage of the attack.
“Long after the Moscow Gay Pride protest at City Hall was over, groups of far right nationalists and neo-Nazis roamed the streets, calling each other on cell phones, apparently to organize additional attacks on people they suspected of participating in Moscow’s Gay Pride
“Only a handful of far-right extremists were detained. Despite beingarrested on charges of assault, most of them were released very quickly-long before the gay marchers were allowed to leave the police station.”
Mr Tatchell had travelled to Moscow at the request of the Moscow GayPride organizers to support the event and the campaign for gay rights in Russia. He was the keynote speaker at the opening session of the Moscow Gay Pride conference on Saturday morning, 26 May 2007 at the Swissotel.
Benjamin Cohen is publisher of PinkNews.co.uk and a correspondent for Channel Four News