A small group of gay men and women have been banned from holding a picket in front of the General Prosecution office in downtown Moscow on Saturday.

Organisers and participants had planned to demand the starting of a criminal investigation against Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who is accused to breaking the law by using his powers as Mayor to ban gay rights events in the city.

Article 149 of Russian Criminal Code implies criminal penalties for officials who prevent public demonstrations by using their official position. The maximum penalty is up to 3 years in prison.

The picket was planned to coincide with the fourth International Day Against Homophobia.

Nikolai Alekseev, chief organiser of Moscow Gay Pride, said this morning that the “lawlessness” of Moscow authorities continues:

“The ban of Saturday’s event is just more evidence that gays and lesbians are not allowed to conduct any public events in the capital, in any place and with any number of participants.

“On Saturday, many countries in the world will celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia. We wanted to express our civil position and raise the issue of systematic breaches of our rights by Moscow authorities, but we were again denied to right to do it.

“The decision concerning this action is currently being discussed. It is possible that it will be conducted in the form of one-man pickets which do not need authorisation according to the current Russian legislation”.

The Mayor has previously referred to gay rights marches as “Satanic.”

The International Day Against Homophobia is celebrated around the world each year on May 17, the day in 1990 the General Assembly of World Health Organization removed homosexuality from the list of psychiatric illnesses. In 1999 Russia adopted the international rules.