Some gay and lesbian organizers in Latvia are promising an international scandal after Rīga city officials, saying they fear unrest from anti-gay groups, cancelled a parade planned July 23 during Rīga Pride 2005.
The announcement by city officials is among the latest in a week of public pronouncements over Rīga Pride 2005. And shortly after the parade was cancelled, the Latvian National Human Rights Office condemned the decision, saying the city was reacting not to concerns about safety but to political pressure.
The parade would have been part of the first-ever gay and lesbian “pride” event in Latvia. The organizers, the Gay and Lesbian Youth Support Group (Geju un lesbiešu jauniešu atbalsta grupa, or GLJAG) have announced on the event’s Web site that their July 23 program remains unchanged, despite cancellation of the parade through the Old City district of Rīga.
Rīga City Manager Ēriks Škapars announced July 20 that the march would not be allowed. The announcement followed a statement by Prime Minister Aigars Kalvītis in which he raised concerns about possible unrest because some radical groups, including Klubs 415, have said they are ready to protest the parade, according to the City of Rīga’s information and public relations office.
The conservative political party For Fatherland and Freedom (Tēvzemei un Brīvībai/LNNK) was among those calling for the parade to be cancelled or, if not, be moved to another location away from the capital’s city center.
Rīga Pride 2005 is to conclude with an assembly and service in St. Saviour’s Anglican Church (Sv. Pestītāja Anglikāņu baznīca). The leaders of Latvia’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Church and Baptist Congregation, in a joint announcement July 20, criticized the planned service and warned about what they see as the potential for the moral degradation of Latvia.
“As suggested by the name of this event, its participants wish not to come into church to repent their sins before Christ and receive forgiveness, but to stand before Him, taking pride in their homosexual lifestyle,” the church leaders said.
Meanwhile, Klubs 415 has announced its own July 23 event, “Mēs par ģimeni!” (We’re for Family!), set for the Esplanāde park in the city center. Klubs 415, which describes itself as “a patriotic Latvian youth organization,” took credit on its Web site for helping to stop the parade and thanked city officials for their “courageous decision.”
But the Latvian National Human Rights Office said city officials were wrong to cancel the parade.
“In accordance with European Court of Human Rights practice, the fact that other organizations are planning counteractions cannot be a basis for forbidding the protection of freedom of peaceful assembly,” the office said in a press release. “The state has a responsibility to guarantee the security of a peaceful meeting or march even when a large part of society finds the ideas expressed there unacceptable.”
The human rights office warned that the city’s decision would be hard to defend in court.
The human rights office also condemned the statements of certain politicians and government officials that, if left unanswered, could be interpreted as the Latvian government’s official position regarding homosexuality. Likewise, the human rights office said it is concerned about homophobic opinions expressed on the Delfi and TVNET Web portals, some of which have agitated for violence against gays and lesbians. The office said it is investigating at least one complaint about comments posted in the portals’ forums.
In announcing cancellation of the parade, the city also noted heightened concerns about extremists in Rīga, some of whom apparently are responsible for recent racially motivated attacks against foreigners in the Old City. On July 1, a U.S. citizen was “violently attacked” by four assailants in what was described by the U.S. Embassy as a “clearly racially motivated” assault. The embassy on July 11 warned American citizens in Latvia about the attack and asked them to report any incidents of harassment to Latvian authorities and to the embassy.
“This is the latest of several recent racially motivated attacks and incidents of harassment directed at Jewish and non-Caucasian individuals resident in Latvia,” the embassy said in its warning.
The most recent attack occurred the morning of July 20 when an Egyptian citizen was attacked in the Old City by four men, the State Police said. Four individuals have been arrested in the incident.
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