WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States voiced “concern” Sunday over the violent end to a gay rights rally in Moscow, and called on Russian authorities to better safeguard “fundamental freedoms” of assembly.
“We note with concern… that a peaceable demonstration of Russians advocating for the rights of gays and lesbians, joined by international supporters, was forcefully disrupted by counter-protesters, and that Russian security forces then detained people from both groups,” US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
Russian security forces had also detained American citizens at the march, Toner noted.
“We call on Russian authorities to work with municipal officials to find better ways to safeguard these fundamental freedoms” that members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) are committed to, Toner said.
Moscow police on Saturday detained three global gay rights leaders, including renowned US gay rights activists Dan Choi and Andy Thayer, and dozens of Russians in a violent end to a rally that activists tried to stage near the Kremlin wall.
The small crowd of young marchers was attacked by members of an ultra-Orthodox group who successfully lobbied Moscow to ban the event. An AFP correspondent saw security forces move in and wrestle activists and religious group members to the ground before detaining them.
“Freedom of assembly is a fundamental right all members of the OSCE committed to, including in the Moscow declaration and as recently as the Astana summit,” said Toner.
“As nationwide legislative elections approach, constraints on the ability of Russian citizens peacefully to gather and express their views will be closely watched in evaluating the integrity of the electoral process,” he added.
Organizers said three Westerners — Choi, Thayer and French activist Louis-George Tin — and most of 30 Russians were released after a few hours of detention.
Human Rights groups have repeatedly condemned Russian police for being more lenient with nationalist forces than with demonstrators supporting minority rights and freedoms.