Latvia bans Gay Pride

Tatchell to join Riga march & defy threats

July 21, 2006

RIGA, Latvia — The city council in the Latvian capital of Riga has refused a permit to this Saturday's Riga Gay Pride march; effectively banning it from taking place.

Justifying the ban on public order grounds, the city authorities report receiving threats of serious, organised violence by homophobic religious, nationalist and fascist groups. They claim Riga Gay Pride it is the 'biggest security risk' since Latvia won its independence from the Soviet Union.

City officials have refused to divulge information about the threats; stating they are a state secret which will not be made public for five years.

The Latvian authorities claim the police would not be able to guarantee security and order during the march.

For weeks, Christians, nationalists and neo-Nazis have threatened violence against the Riga Gay Pride march. They have vowed to stop it taking place. Nearly 17,000 people have signed a petition demanding the march be stopped.

Last year's Riga Gay Pride march was violently attacked. This year, the homophobic opposition is better organised and poses an even greater threat to the safety of the marchers.

The request to stage the march had been made by Mozanka, the Latvian association of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered persons (LBGT) and their friends, and by the gay rights organisations ILGA Latvija and Rngas Praids.

'We are shocked by the city council's decision, which we view as not only an unacceptable restriction of the freedom of assembly, but a major blow to democracy in the face of terrorist threats,' said Mozanka board member Linda Freimane.

'We are preparing to challenge the decision in the Administrative Court today' Last year the Administrative Court acted very correctly by overturning the city council's decision to revoke the Pride march permit, and so we are very hopeful that this year, too, the Court will defend democratic rights in Latvia by overturning the council's decision'.

British gay human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, has flown to Latvia to attend Riga Pride, and to support the Gay Pride organisers.

Mr Tatchell said the city council decision 'echoes the bad old days of Soviet tyranny'.

'It is scandalous that a member state of the EU is giving in to threats and blackmail by religious fundamentalists and the far right.

'The government of Latvia has a duty to resist threats of homophobic violence, protect its gay citizens and safeguard the right to peaceful protest.

'Riga Gay Pride is a litmus test of Latvian democracy.

'This ban fits a pattern of homophobia by the Latvian authorities. The Latvian parliament recently refused to pass a law prohibiting employment discrimination against lesbians and gays, even though as a member state of the EU it is required to outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Latvia has also banned same-sex marriage,' concluded Mr Tatchell.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church in Latvia had said the Gay Pride march should not be allowed.

'It offends the morals of Latvia's population and every Christian. It is a challenge and provocation against our religions,' he said.

Mozanka believes that by forbidding the march, the city council is endangering not only the rights of sexual minorities, but the foundations of democracy in Latvia.

By caving in to the threats of homophobic extremists a precedent is being established that will lead not to the consolidation of society, but to the victory of extremism and to the fully justified perception that threats are an effective instrument for limiting democracy, the group says.

'This precedent is extremely dangerous, because it demonstrates that the use or threat of force against a particular group is effective in winning the support of state organs in restricting the rights of this group. No resident of Latvia will be able to feel confident that at some point similarly undemocratic methods will not be used against him or her,' Mozanka said in a press statement.

Mozanka pointed out that at least 20 foreign officials will be arriving in Latvia this week to participate in the march and Friendship Days, including members of the Swedish, Danish, Austrian and European parliaments, a Swedish army captain and representatives of several human rights organizations.

Simultaneously, his First Party colleague, Armers Luvdiks, Vice-Mayor of Riga, in a radio debate on the Pride March, also urged Riga City Council to not allow the LGBT Pride March to go ahead because of alleged security risks and because of claimed public opposition.

The alliance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people and their friends, Mozaika, strongly condemns the statement by the Interior Minister, calling it �cynical and irresponsible�. Mozaika said it was ridiculous to suggest that the country which hosted the Ice Hockey World Championship, and is about to host a NATO summit, cannot provide adequate security for the LGBT Pride March.

Mozaika said that such statement by the Interior Minister serves his party interest and not the interests of the state and its citizens. By scaremongering about violence the Minister is hoping to create a fearful atmosphere where it will be possible to ban the LGBT Pride March, or to pressure the organisers to voluntary withdrew their application for the March.

Such behaviour by the Minister suggest that he cares little about security and public order but is more interested in exploiting his government position to promote his party�s homophobic views.

Mozaika said the organisers cannot be held responsible for the violent action of its opponents. If there is violence during the LGBT Pride March this Saturday, it is it the obligation of the state to protect its citizens rights to free expression and peaceful assembly.

Mozaika said that if the March is banned or �voluntarily� withdrawn, this will cause serious risks not just to sexual minorities, but to the authority of the state, its democratic basis and to the people of Latvia as a whole.

Giving in to the threats of violence will create a dangerous precedent which will not lead to the harmonious integration of our society, but to the victory and emboldenment of extremist homophobic organisations and their threats of violence. Democracy will be the loser.

It sets a dangerous precedent; opening the door to further threats, perhaps in future against ethnic, national and religious minorities.

Will the Minister also restrict freedoms enshrined in Latvia�s Constitution?

If the threats to our democracy are so significant and the LGBT Pride March is the highest security risk since Latvia gained its independence, then it is the political parties that created the tension with their populist anti-gay hatred. They must take responsibility for any violence that occurs.

Last year, the police demonstrated high professionalism and there are no grounds to believe the situation has changed this year, Mozaika continued.

Mozaika asks the Minister why he never replied to our letter sent to him on 27 June, with an invitation to discuss the security issue. He is obliged to reply by the law, and it is also his moral obligation if he believes that our members are at risk of violence.

Mozaika is very concerned that the Ministeris statement unfortunately leads us to fear that future peaceful demonstrations will be restricted, while Right-wing homophobes will be free to run amok in Riga�s streets intimidating LGBT people and threatening violence.

For more information see website: < www.mozaika
Issued by Outrage!

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