- Associated Press - Thursday, October 21, 2010

STRASBOURG, France (AP) — The European Court of Human Rights condemned Russia on Thursday for letting Moscow ban gay pride marches simply because officials there disliked homosexuals and their lifestyle.

The court ordered Russia to pay organizers of Gay Pride events — which were illegally banned in 2006, 2007 and 2008 — $41,300 for damages and court costs.

The court is an arm of the Council of Europe, the continent’s premier human rights watchdog and Russia is a member. Its rulings are binding, meaning that Russia must ensure gay parades are freely held in its cities.

The case was launched by Nikolay Alekseyev, an organizer of several Moscow marches in 2006, 2007 and 2008 to highlight discrimination against gays and lesbians. Moscow’s mayor at the time, Yuri Luzhkov, famously compared gays to the devil, and always ensured that Gay Pride parades, which never got official permission to go ahead, were brutally quashed by police.

The European Court of Human Rights said those marches were formally banned “to protect public order, health, morals and the rights and freedoms of others, as well as to prevent riots,” but that the real reason was a dislike of gays and lesbians.

“The Moscow mayor had on many occasions expressed his determination to prevent gay parades, as he found them inappropriate,” said the court.

In support of Moscow’s gay parade bans, the Russian government argued that “gay propaganda was incompatible with religious doctrines and public morals,” the court added.

It ruled that that these attitudes violate Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which says “everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.” It added the “mere risk of a demonstration creating a disturbance” was no good reason to ban a parade.

The court’s action came the same day that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff, Sergei Sobyanin, was named the new mayor of Moscow. He replaces Mr. Luzhkov, who was fired by President Dmitry Medvedev last month after 18 years in office.

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