St. Petersburg Pride had a small but mighty gathering of about a hundred people on Saturday in the Russian city’s Field of Mars park. But the event was marred by skinheads, who attacked the crowd with pepper spray. At least 10 participants and journalists covering the event were injured, three of whom were taken to the hospital with chemical burns.
Wary of an attack, activists had reportedly asked the police for an escort, but were refused.
The assault came as the event was coming to a close, with participants “lying on the grass, launching rainbow snakes into the sky, and singing songs,” according to Russian-language site
Fontanka. A group of young men with shaved heads wearing track suits then rushed participants on the Second Garden Bridge.
Authorities are investigating the attack, with some offenders already identified from footage of the incident.
The event almost didn’t happen at all: The Moscow Times reports while the Field of Mars is designated a “free speech zone,” a requirement for obtaining a permit is that no other event be scheduled for the same day.
Pride organizer Yury Gavrikov was told there was a WWII remembrance in the park, though only five people showed up for it. Gavrikov says creating “pseudo-events” to stymie free speech is a common tactic by the government, especially LGBT events.
He added that he proposed four other locations for the parade, three of which were rejected due to “construction work.”
“If you read the papers, they are doing some very intensive construction work in those streets,” said Gavrikov. “But if you go there nothing is happening and nothing has even started.”
Meanwhile, police detained lesbian activist Anna Grabetskaya, who was holding a sign reading “I love my wife” and wearing a rainbow flag, in violation of Russia’s ban on gay “propaganda.”
She’s now facing up to 10 days in jail.