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Party members attack LGBT rights protestors in Ukraine

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - 18 December 2012 - The Ukrainian government should condemn homophobic speech and attacks on a peaceful protest in Kiev on December 8, 2012, Human Rights Watch said today. The rally by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and human rights groups commemorated Human Rights Day on December 10 and protested a homophobic bill under consideration in the Ukrainian parliament.

Members of the Svoboda party, which won 38 out of 450 seats in the October 2012 parliamentary elections, and which supports the bill, tried to disrupt the protest. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the police made homophobic and transphobic remarks throughout the protest. Ukrainian authorities should fully investigate the December 8 incident and hold those responsible for attacking the protesters accountable, Human Rights Watch said.

“LGBT people in Ukraine have a right to assemble and speak freely, and the Ukrainian government needs to make sure they can exercise their rights,” said Rachel Denber, deputy director for the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch. “As a political party, Svoboda should abide by Ukraine's laws and international commitments. Svoboda has no business sending members out to shout homophobic slogans and attack a peaceful protest.”

In a statement published on December 8, Svoboda claimed responsibility for ripping the demonstrators' posters and attempting to disrupt the protest. The statement called the protest “a Sabbath of 50 perverts” and blamed unidentified people for beating up “other perverts” after the event.

The legislation before Ukraine's parliament would, among other things, ban the production, publication, or distribution of various products and materials “promoting” or “propagating” homosexuality. Violators would face fines and lengthy prison sentences.

Svoboda has organized numerous rallies in support of the bill.

About 100 people participated in the December 8 protest against the homophobic bill at Besarabska Square in Kiev. Police detained six protesters who were trying to prevent Svoboda members from spraying tear gas and ripping up their posters. Police also detained two Svoboda members. All detainees were released after several hours and later ordered to pay administrative fines ranging from 51 hryvnas (US$6) to 136 hryvnas ($17). Timur Lysenko, a member of Insight, an LGBT rights nongovernmental organization, told Human Rights Watch that as the police were detaining protesters, the police inquired about his and other protesters' sexual orientation and gender identity and used homophobic slurs.

“It's completely unacceptable for police to use homophobic slurs and face no sanction for it,” Denber said. “The authorities in Ukraine need to do more to ensure that police protect LGBT people, not abuse them.”

Lysenko and other witnesses told Human Rights Watch that police interfered with the march that activists planned to conduct after the rally. Police surrounded the participants, blocking them from leaving Besarabska Square and other participants from joining.

Olena Shevchenko, the head of Insight who organized the protest, was fined 850 hryvna ($100) by the Shevchenkivskiy District Court for alleged administrative violations in relation to the protest. The court ruled that Shevchenko had not followed the procedures outlined in the administrative code for holding public gatherings but did not explain its reasoning.

Shevchenko told Human Rights Watch that the judge said the December 8 protest was like a “protest of murderers” and suggested that Insight or LGBT groups should not hold protests in the center of Kiev where “normal people walk.”

Shevchenko had first notified the authorities about plans to hold the rally on December 5, as required by Ukrainian law. On December 7, she was summoned to court, where a judge told her that the rally could not be held at the proposed site. Shevchenko immediately filed a second notification for the rally to take place at a different site, Besarabska Square.

The legal procedure for organizing a public rally in Ukraine requires organizers only to notify municipal authorities about the planned gathering, including the site and estimated number of participants. However, authorities often object to protests, invoking various formal pretexts and directing organizers to use alternative locations that are out of the public eye. In response, many organizers choose instead to hold unauthorized demonstrations, facing the threat of detention or fines for violating the procedures or for not complying with police orders.

Three days after the protest, Shevchenko spoke at a United Nations' event on LGBT rights in New York, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and celebrities such as Ricky Martin and the South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka.
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