Minsk Gay Culture and Human Rights Conference Cancelled

MINSK, November 13, 2006 - The planned international conference on LGBT culture and human rights in the Belarus capital was cancelled hours before it was due to start last weekend.

Organisers were forced to cancel the event following the arrest of seven members of the organising committee and the resulting withdrawal from a partner organisation that was to have provided conference space.

As previously reported, police broke into the apartment where the organisers were holding a meeting and arrested the seven - and confiscated materials for the conference. Four of those arrested were released within two hours and three were detained for 22 hours.

One of those arrested and detained for 22 hours was a Russian citizen, Svyatoslav Sementsov.

"They interrogated us overnight night," he said. "Together with two other Slavas I spent the whole night behind the bars.

"It was cold in the police station and I was refused to call my consulate as well as I'm Russian citizen.

"But we didn't experience violence or gay-bushing from police officers," Sementsov pointed out.

The organising committee said that they had received dozens of messages of support from across the world following the arrests.

"Warmest thanks to OSCE/ODIHR, Amnesty International, ILGA-Europe, UNDP-Belarus, ILGCN, Tupilak (Sweden), Rainbow Foundation (Russia), Human Rights Watch, InterPride, European Parliament members, Interkulturelles Zentrum, Stonewall, Outrage! and many others who sent e-mails and faxes," Sementsov said.

"A number of participants, including foreign diplomats, decided not to come. Even so, we felt international support and solidarity."

However, despite the difficult circumstances, a few foreign guests did brave the situation and arrived in Minsk.

On Saturday, a small international delegation laid flowers on the Trostsenets memorial - where more than 215 thousand people have been exterminated by Nazi forces in 1941-1944.

"The authorities shouldn't think that we are giving up," said Bill Schiller of International Lesbian and Gay Cultural Network who managed to come to Minsk with support from Swedish Institute.

"Together with our Belarusian brothers and sisters we will continue to organise meetings, conferences and cultural events here and abroad," he vowed.

While no criminal charges were filled against released activists, the vague wording of the amendments of the Criminal Code adopted on December 15, 2005 (Law N 71-Z) provides wide discretionary powers to the authorities allowing them to label activities of LGBT groups as illegal attempts to discredit or harm the Belarusian state.

Criminal persecution could be implied for the coordination of activities by an association or a foundation which has been suspended or liquidated (Article 193).

Bearing in mind that none of Belarusian LGBT groups has legal status, anyone who organises such activities may face a fine and six months imprisonment, and in vaguely defined "serious cases" can be subjected to a "restriction of freedom" for up to two years.