Latvian government should break gay pride silence says Amnesty

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The Latvian government should "break its silence and give a firm commitment to do all within its power to ensure the safety and protection of those participating in this year’s EuroPride in Riga," said human rights organization Amnesty International Wednesday.

EuroPride events have already started in Riga but reach a climax on Saturday June 20 with a large pride parade in the center of the city, which is expected to be confronted with counter-demonstrators from religious and other groups. 

"While EuroPride organizers say law enforcement authorities have been very cooperative, the Latvian government has failed to welcome the event. When asked about it last December, Latvian President Andris Berzins stated that 'homosexuality should not be advertised and imposed'," Amnesty said in a statement.

“It is disturbing to see the Latvian government’s evident discomfort at hosting EuroPride. Instead of welcoming an event meant to champion openness and tolerance, Latvia’s leaders seem to be turning their backs on it. As the country holding the presidency of the European Union, Latvia should be leading by example in the fight against homophobic discrimination,” said Lucy Freeman, Director of Amnesty International’s Gender, Sexual and Identity Programme.

"The sad fact is the majority of Latvian society is against EuroPride and advancing LGBTI rights remains a struggle: same-sex couples are invisible for the government, homophobic hate crimes are not recognised and high-level politicians employ vicious homophobic rhetoric,” said Kaspars Zalitis, a board member of Mozaika, the Latvian group organizing EuroPride 2015.

This year’s EuroPride is the first to be held in a former Soviet-occupied country, a sign of how far LGBTI rights have come in Latvia. In 2005 a national pride march in Riga was marred by violence and hostility, as 70 activists marched for their rights in spite of more than a thousand counter-protesters who tried to block the march, used teargas and threw eggs at the pride marchers.

Despite progress on LGBTI rights in the Baltic states and across Europe, the safety and security of pride marches and freedom of expression in general remains under threat in several other countries, where homophobic attacks remain a constant threat. On 6 June, the Kyiv Pride was marred by homophobic violence which saw 10 protesters and 11 police officers injured. Amnesty International said the police did not adequately protect the march.

Only five former Soviet states have passed legislation prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in employment and only three of them - Georgia, Lithuania and Estonia - have laws on hate crime or incitement to hatred that explicitly include either sexual orientation or gender identity.

"Lithuania and Russia have passed laws that restrict the right to freedom of expression of LGBTI activists, when disseminating information and advocating for issues such as equal marriage for same-sex couples," Amnesty added.

“With homophobic violence a clear and present danger for activists in post-Soviet states, this week’s EuroPride will hopefully send a message that progress is possible and deep-seated discrimination can be uprooted and replaced with tolerance,” said Lucy Freeman.

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