Strasbourg rules Russian ban on gay marches 'illegal'

Russia was told by the European Court of Human Rights yesterday that its ban on gay marches is illegal.

In a landmark ruling greeted with delight by the country's beleaguered homosexuals, the court in Strasbourg said that restricting the community's rights of assembly was a form of discrimination.

The authorities were told to pay around £25,000 in compensation to Nikolai Alexeyev, Russia's top gay rights activist, who brought the action.

"This is a crippling blow to Russian homophobia on all accounts," commented Mr Alexeyev.

Gay rights activists said the ruling had tremendous implications for all civil society in Russia, as it states that the authorities' insistence that protesters must obtain permission to hold rallies or pickets is illegal. Currently, authorities in many Russian cities reject applications for gay marches or demonstrations of the democratic opposition, often claiming that they clash with other hastily-arranged events.

Each year a small number of gays defy the ban and march anyway, which often ends with riot police wading in and arresting the demonstrators.

Russia remains largely homophobic and support for gay rights is minimal. In 2007, British activist Peter Tatchell, who had flown to Moscow to support the homosexual community, was assaulted by anti-gay protesters. He says he was then arrested, while his assailant walked free.

Last month, Mr Alexeyev claimed he was abducted by plain clothes security officers from a Moscow airport and held for two days. He said he was verbally abused and told to withdraw the court case.

The verdict came on the same day as Moscow got a new mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, who was inaugurated after being approved by the city's parliament.

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