First the statement, then some analysis:
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
For Immediate Release May 29, 2011
STATEMENT BY MARK TONER, DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON
Concern about Freedom of Assembly in Russia
We note with concern that in Moscow on Saturday, May 28, a peaceable demonstration of Russians advocating for the rights of gays and lesbians, joined by international supporters, was forcefully disrupted by counter-protesters, and that Russian security forces then detained people from both groups, including American citizens. Some protestors were seriously injured according to media reports.
Freedom of assembly is a fundamental right all members of the OSCE committed to, including in the Moscow declaration and as recently as the Astana summit. As nationwide legislative elections approach, constraints on the ability of Russian citizens peacefully to gather and express their views will be closely watched in evaluating the integrity of the electoral process. We call on Russian authorities to work with municipal officials to find better ways to safeguard these fundamental freedoms.
In glacial terms, it’s good that we at least got their attention. Also, while this is issued by a “deputy spokesman,” he’s not junior – he’s the guy who does the daily Q&A; for State on TV.
Now, you have to understand that the State Department is notorious for being hyper-cautious in its language, everything is about nuance, so the very fact they issued this statement at all is probably ticking the Russian government off. So that’s good. However…
I’m concerned that the statement gives the appearance of accepting the Russian government’s version of events, spelled out in a Pravda piece that pretty much concludes by threatening LGBT Russians with violence. Namely, that the Russian police were simply trying to protect the LGBT protesters from the evil neo-Nazis who were disrupting their lovely Pride parade. Where do I think the statement embraces the government’s party line? A few places.
1) “…was forcefully disrupted by counter-protesters, and that Russian security forces then detained people” – Here State appears to be accepting the Russian government’s claim that the security forces ONLY moved in AFTER the neo-Nazis disrupted the Pride rally. The video I posted earlier, with screen shots, clearly shows Dan Choi and the other foreign activists walking peacefully, milling around, then stopping before a large crowd of reporters and beginning to hold a press conference. The first sign of trouble is moments later when you see a pair of hands lunging for one of the LGBT attendees – in the next shot you see the hands belong to the Russian militzia, or police. In the next second, scores of police pounce on Dan and company.
|Note the pair of hands lunging in the pic at right, it’s a cop.|
Nothing was going wrong, there were no counter-protesters disrupting anything, according to this video. The police appear to have moved in to stop Dan and company from holding a press conference. That’s pretty serious. And it’s extremely troubling that State’s statement gives the appearance of disagreeing with the visual evidence. Look at the photos from the video. The cops went crazy trying to get their hands on Dan and Andy’s flyers:
|Dan and Andy Thayer appears to have flyers, police want them.|
Was that to protect Dan and Andy too?
Now, it’s possible the police moved in elsewhere after the counter-protesters caused a disruption, but it doesn’t look like that happend with Dan and company. Though, then you’d have to look into numerous reports that the police use the neo-Nazis to help do their dirty work – letting them attack protesters, then the police can move in to say “gosh, we need to save you.” Others suggest that the police plainclothesmen are there to incite violence the same “close it down” purpose.
2) “We call on Russian authorities to work with municipal officials to find better ways to safeguard these fundamental freedoms.” Better ways? That sounds like State is accepting the Russian government’s claim that it was trying to “safeguard” the LGBT community by pouncing on them and carrying them off the jail, rather violently according to the new photos. State seems to be implying, “look, we know you were trying to do the right thing, but you need to find a better way to do it.” When in fact, history, and the visual evidence, suggest that the Russian government wasn’t trying to help protect the protesters’ rights at all.
I appreciate that State said something. As I noted above, the Russian government probably won’t be very happy that State said anything. I worry, however, at the message this statement sends to Russia’s LGBT and larger human rights community. Our government shouldn’t be telegraphing that we believe the Russian government’s side of the story without a further investigation of all of the facts.