Unlawful Searches Target Moscow Gay Venues
On June 30, 2001, a group of armed people in civilian clothing entered three (out of four) Moscow gay venues, harassed and filmed visitors, and searched the premises without a warrant.
At 2 am the normal flow of life in the Moscow gay bar Central Station was interrupted as a dozen of sturdy guys suddenly appeared and blocked the exit from the bar, the staircase, and the passage to the outdoor summer cafe.
They commanded to stop the music and forced people from the bathrooms on the dance floor where they proceeded to check their IDs.
The bar security guard later told us that he had attempted to prevent their access into the bar premises by locking the internal door. But they forced the door and broke in.
One of the intruders immediately retaliated to the resistance by putting one of the visitors - who only had the misfortune to stand close to the entrance at the time of the intrusion - his face to the wall and delivering a strong blow on his back. Alexander, 27, later sought medical treatment for a rib fracture.
Despite the bar guard's request, the armed intruders have never presented any warrants authorizing their entry or a search of the premises. Nor have they given any explanations as to the purpose of their visit and declined to identify themselves or the agency they worked for.
Judging from the intruders' ability to block passages inside the bar in less than a minute, they were obviously very knowledgeable about the layout of the place and the operation was well coordinated.
The presence of a man with a dog in their ranks led us to conclude that they might belong to the anti-drug enforcement agency attached to the Russian Ministry of the Interior.
Fortunately, the story has not repeated in the Central Station. Incidentally, a member of the State Duma (Parliament) happened to come this night to the bar and his presence restrained the initial aggressiveness of the intruders: they carried out the search and ID checks, albeit unlawful, in a civilized and almost victimless way.
In forty minutes the search was over and the intruders left for the Three Monkeys bar at a stone's throw from the Central Station and under the same management.
Again, they made an unauthorized entry and carried out unwarranted search and a document check. At that time of the night visitors were few in the bar and luckily no one has suffered any damage.
Yet the last place in their raid, gay club Kazarma (Barracks), has been hit the hardest.
Kazarma is a small gay sex club located in the underground of a large two-floor straight disco club under the same management. The fact that the straight disco upstairs has not been searched supports our conviction that the group singled out for harassment gay venues only.
An eye-witness Sergey, 31, shared his story with us: "At 3:30 am a pack of cops - all of them in civilian clothes and their cameraman with video equipment - came in accompanied by the club security".
"They started knocking off the doors of the private rooms, snatching everybody they found out of the booths, and filming everything on the camcorder. They probably had in mind to catch guys having sex on video, but they failed".
"Some of the people "extracted" from the booths were beaten, this was before my eyes… Nobody from the staff of Barracks warned guests about the police bust - the bartender and security… acted as nothing was happening! Bitches!.."
Half a dozen visitors were brought out of the club for the lack of proper IDs, but later released after paying bribes in the amount of 10 to 20 US dollars. To our knowledge, no drug possession charges were filed against visitors or employees.
Unfortunately, we can only confirm that these unwarranted raids, irrespective of the authority of the involved agency, and visitors' filming violate the privacy clause of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Russia is a signatory, the Russian Constitution and the Federal Laws on Police and on Operative Investigative Activities, as well as internal police regulations.
We talked to several victims of the raid, but none of them has agreed to file a suit against the Ministry of the Interior fearing publicity. It appears that filing legal complaints and fighting for the rights of victims of such police attacks are fruitless at this time, taking into account the underdeveloped state of the Russian judicial system.