Gays win landmark rights case against Russia

MOSCOW Thu Oct 21, 2010 7:54am EDT

Police detain a gay rights activist holding a puppet of Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov during an unsanctioned protest in Moscow September 21, 2010. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin

Police detain a gay rights activist holding a puppet of Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov during an unsanctioned protest in Moscow September 21, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Alexander Natruskin

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - The European Court of Human Rights said on Thursday it had fined Russia for banning homosexual parades in Moscow, marking a victory for the country's marginalized gay community.

Gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev had lodged three cases with the court arguing that Russia had violated the European Convention on Human Rights, to which it subscribes as a member state of the Council of Europe.

The Strasbourg-based court ruled that Russia had violated rights of assembly and had discriminated on grounds of sexual orientation. It ordered Russia to pay 29,510 euros ($41,090) to Alexeyev in damages and for legal fees.

For years authorities had denied gays permission to hold demonstrations on the grounds that they would cause a violent reaction in the country, where prejudice against gays runs deep.

"The mere risk of a demonstration creating a disturbance was not sufficient to justify its ban," the court said in a statement.

Demonstrators have sometimes been beaten by police during rallies. Moscow's ex-mayor Yuri Luzhkov called gay marches "satanic" and said the demonstrations would endanger public health and morality.

"This is a crippling blow to Russian homophobia on all accounts," said Alexeyev in a statement after the verdict was announced.

The court also said the gay community's claims were not given a fair hearing in Russia, whose constitution guarantees the right to hold demonstrations.

Alexeyev has said men connected to the authorities abducted him and pressured him to drop the cases.

President Dmitry Medvedev has promised repeatedly to usher in democratic ideals and policies, but rights activists and analysts say little has changed since he came to office two years ago.

Analysts are still awaiting signals over whether new Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who was approved by lawmakers for the post on Thursday, will take a softer line on gay rights.

(Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman, Writing by Thomas Grove and Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing by David Stamp)

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