More than 70 people, including a German parliamentarian, were arrested in Moscow after Russian police, militant Orthodox Christians and right-wing extremists broke up a gay rights rally.
Beck (center) said the police did nothing to protect the gay rights activists
The parade to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Russia took place on Saturday despite being prohibited by authorities. Several people were injured during the clashes, among them German parliamentarian Volker Beck.
Volker Beck of Germany's Green party was one of the foreign activists who traveled to Moscow in support of the city's first-ever gay rights rally. And he was among those who gathered in the city center on Saturday even though authorities had banned the march.
The activists were soon surrounded by dozens of religious and nationalist extremists, who chanted anti-gay slogans and tried to break up the gathering. Police units then moved on the crowd. During the clashes that followed Volker Beck was punched in the face and slightly injured.
"I was attacked by a neo-Nazi. First with a stone then with a fist," he said. "This incident clearly shows that gays are not safe in this country. Police failed to protect us, they even prevented us from escaping, so we were exposed to the dangerous situation without any protection."
Intolerance from mayor
Following the turmoil, the German politician was detained and only released after authorities recognized his parliamentary credentials. Police also arrested gay rights activist Nikolai Alekseyev, the driving force behind the march, along with other demonstrators who attempted to lay flowers on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, just outside the Kremlin walls. Several protesters who tried to break up the gay rally were also being held.
Moscow's Mayor Yuri Luzkhov
City authorities had initially prohibited the first ever gay rights parade in Moscow, and that decision was upheld by a district court on Friday. Moscow's mayor Yuri Luzkhov had warned that the event would "provoke outrage in society" because homosexuality was "not natural." He also claimed that 99 percent of the people in Moscow were supportive of the ban.
Homosexuality was considered a crime in Russia until 1993 and a mental illness until 1999. Even today same-sex couples almost never make a public display of their affection. According to activists, discrimination is still a major problem in Russian society, with gays and lesbians facing widespread public intolerance.