Members of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights have warned the Croatian authorities that police must adequately protect a Pride march this weekend.

Last year ten people were injured when violence broke out at a Pride march in the capital Zagreb.

A gang of around 20 young men taunted and abused the participants. Police arrested eight people.

A group representing lesbians in Croatia later questioned why only one person was prosecuted.

Josip Situm was convicted of endangering lives and property and ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment while behind bars after being found guilty of a hate crime.

Police spotted him at the Pride event in Zagreb on 7th July 2007 with petrol bombs, but he fled the scene.

Despite the Croatian government granting limited partnership rights for gay and lesbian couples, homophobia remains rife in the country, which is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.

Homosexuality was legalised in Croatia in 1977, and the age of consent was equalised in 1998.

Croatia is not a member of the EU, but has applied to join and is regarded as likely to be admitted in 2009 or 2010.

However, the homophobic attitude that pervades Croatian society is an issue for some EU officials.

The European Parliament’s Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights said that they support the participants and organisers of tomorrow’s event.

“I congratulate all participants and organisers of Zagreb Pride on the celebration of equality and diversity,” said Michael Cashman, West Midlands MEP and President of the Intergroup.

“My colleague Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert MEP will be present in Zagreb to show our solidarity.

“At the same time I must remind the Croatian authorities that there should be adequate and proper policing to protect a peaceful assembly of LGBT people.”

Lissy Gröner, Vice-President of the Intergroup for the PSE added:

“The Croatian government must clearly demonstrate that they understand that the respect for human rights of every citizen is one of the criteria to become a member of the European Union.

“The rights to peaceful assembly of LGBT people must be respected.

“There should be no repetition of the police misconduct of last year.”

Lesbian group Kontra, the Centre for Sexual and Gender Minorities Rights and the Women’s Network of Croatia issued a joint statement in March after Situm was convicted.

“It is evident from the judicial procedure that there was more than one perpetrator,” they said.

“We are wondering why other perpetrators were not convicted.

“In the report of the Police Headquarters of Zagreb it was stated: ‘At 12.45 am, in the passage Harmica, Croatian citizens (1988 and 1986) and a minor (1990) with no identity cards were found in possession of several bottles of flammable fluid and plastic bags with eggs and tomatoes that were supposed to serve for attack on the march participants.'”

The police brought only misdemeanour charges against those three and against others who had been physically violent towards Pride marchers.

The only person to face criminal charges was Situm.

“The homophobic conduct of police officers was recorded in the process of reporting of violence by Zagreb Pride participants, insulting injured parties on the basis of sexual orientation and nationality, in the case of Slovenian citizens,” the groups claimed in their statement.

“However, such misconduct was not penalised even after the complaint was filed to the Ministry of Interior.

“In response the Ministry said the injured parties did not co-operate with the police and that the people that attacked them were not found.

“We conclude that the police have no intention of dealing with hate crimes and homophobia inside its system.”

Situm was the first person convicted of a hate crime in Croatia since they became an offence under the country’s Penal Code in 2006.