Baltic Pride, due to be held this weekend in Lithuania, has been suspended after authorities said they could not guarantee participants’ safety.
Despite assurances from police that hundreds of marchers through the capital Vilnius would be protected, the Lithuanian Attorney General’s Office argued that they could be injured by anti-gay groups.
Attorney General Raimundas Petrauskas denied the decision was down to homophobia.
He said: “Whose fault would it be if anyone gets hurt? It might look like we are homophobic, but I am not sure if we’d look better with pictures of violence on TV.”
He added that he had received information that several extremist groups were planning to protest against the march.
But police told the court they were ready to send 800 officers to protect gay marchers and the decision to suspend the event was criticised by Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite.
She said she was “surprised” at the decision and confirmed the constitutional right to peaceful assembly.
The city’s administrative court made the decision to suspend the march on public security grounds and Baltic Pride organisers immediately launched an appeal to the highest administrative court.
A hearing is scheduled for tomorrow morning.
The decision to suspend the march has been attacked by human rights groups, with Amnesty International claiming it violates international law.
Amnesty’s expert on discrimination in Europe, John Dalhuisen, said: “The authorities in Lithuania must ensure that the march goes ahead unobstructed and safely as they are obliged under international law to guarantee the rights to freedom to expression and assembly. Anything less will amount to discrimination.
“The Attorney General’s application is an abuse of the legal process and will result in the violation of human rights.”
Evelyne Paradis, executive director of the Europe arm of the International Gay and Lesbian Association, said: “This is a serious blow to democracy and a temporary victory for prejudice and fear in Lithuania.
“We fully support the appeal by the organisers of the Baltic Pride to challenge yesterday’s court decision and are hoping that justice will prevail and the march for equality will go on as planned.”
Baltic Pride is organised by LGBT activists from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Last year’s march in Latvia was almost cancelled when Riga city council tried to ban it, but it went ahead after a court ruled there was no reason to prevent it going ahead.
The event will call for governments of the three countries to outlaw discrimination against LGBT people.
Lithuania recently passed into power a law which gay campaigners said would ban the promotion of gay marriage.
The law was amended in December after international criticism. Before, it prohibited the “public dissemination” of any materials which could be seen to promote homosexuality.
Instead, lawmakers approved changes which would ban the “encouraging the sexual abuse of minors, sexual relations between minors and other sexual relations”.
The legislation also prohibits the mention of bisexuality, polygamy, images of straight sex, death and severe injury, the paranormal, foul language and bad eating habits.
It does not specify punishments for breaking the law.
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