Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell will join Russian gay activists and defy a ban on this Saturday’s Gay Pride march in Moscow.

Despite the Moscow mayor’s threat of mass arrests, and the threat of violence from nationalist and religious leaders, Tatchell and other international human rights activists will join the historic first Gay Pride march in Russian history. It will take place this Saturday, 27 May, which is the thirteenth anniversary of the 1993 abolition of Soviet-era laws against male homosexuality.

The Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, has banned the gay parade and is threatening to also outlaw the parallel gay rights conference and festival.

Mr Luzhkov says he will not allow a Gay Pride parade “in any form” and that any attempt to march in the streets will be “resolutely quashed.”

The Mayor’s diktat follows inflammatory statements by the leader of Russia’s Muslims, which threatened violence if the planned Moscow Gay Pride parade goes ahead. Condemnations of gay people and the gay parade have also been made by Russia’s Chief Rabbi and the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Announcing the parade ban, the Mayor’s office said last week: “This march can provoke the wave of protest actions which can lead to group breaches of public order and mass disturbances… the application for the march is not agreed on.”

Mr Tatchell and his gay human rights group, OutRage!, have condemned the ban:

“The Mayor of Moscow says he supports democracy. We ask him to prove it by giving the go ahead to Moscow Gay Pride. Democracy means respecting the rights of minorities.

“Who does Luzhkov think he is? Joseph Stalin? Someone should remind the Mayor that the anti-gay Soviet Union is dead. Russia is now a democracy and in a democracy people have a right to protest peacefully.

“These attempts by the Russian state to suppress Moscow Gay Pride are a throwback to the bad old days of czarist and communist totalitarianism. Threats and intimidation by the Mayor of Moscow will not stop the gay freedom struggle in Russia. The right to sexual self-determination and the right to protest are fundamental human rights that every democratic nation must respect.

“The ban on Moscow Gay Pride is a violation of the Russian constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, assembly and the right to peaceful protest. Russian gay activists are currently challenging the ban in their own courts. If necessary, they will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights,” said Mr Tatchell.

Much of the anti-gay sentiment that is sweeping Russia has been whipped up by religious leaders.

Threatening violence against Moscow Gay Pride, the Chief Mufti of Russia’s Central Spiritual Governance for Muslims, Talgat Tajuddin, said: “Muslim protests can be even worse than these notorious rallies abroad over the scandalous cartoons.”

“The parade should not be allowed, and if they still come out into the streets, then they should be bashed. Sexual minorities have no rights, because they have crossed the line. Alternative sexuality is a crime against God,” he said.

Mr Tajuddin called on Russian Orthodox Church members to join Muslims in mounting a violent response to Moscow Pride.

A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, which also urged the Moscow Mayor to ban the parade, spoke out against Moscow Pride, telling media outlets that homosexuality is a “sin which destroys human beings and condemns them to a spiritual death.”

Not to be left out, Russian Chief Rabbi, Berl Lazar, said that if a gay pride parade was allowed to go ahead it would be “a blow for morality”. He stopped short of calling for violence, but warned that the Jewish community would not stand by silently. “Sexual perversions”, he said, did not have a right to exist. Lazar said that gay pride marches were “a provocation” similar to cartoon depictions of Mohammed.

Many well known gay rights campaigners from around the world will attend Moscow Gay Pride. Other prominent attendees include the Deputy Mayor of Paris and several members of the European Parliament.

Over 250 representatives from more than 30 countries will participate in the simultaneous Moscow International Gay Festival from 25 to 27 May. This festival will feature a series of lectures by Merlin Holland, the grandson of Oscar Wilde.

Moscow Pride takes place a week after the start of the Russian Presidency in the Council of Europe and just before the summit of G8 leaders in St Petersburg. President Putin has not commented on the banning of Moscow Pride or on the threats of violence from religious leaders.

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