The city council in the Latvian capital of Riga has refused a permit to this Saturday’s Riga Gay Pride march; effectively banning it from taking place.

Justifying the ban on public order grounds, the city authorities report receiving threats of serious, organised violence by homophobic religious, nationalist and fascist groups. They claim Riga Gay Pride it is the “biggest security risk” since Latvia won its independence from the Soviet Union.

City officials have refused to divulge information about the threats; stating they are a state secret which will not be made public for five years.

The Latvian authorities claim the police would not be able to guarantee security and order during the march.

For weeks, Christians, nationalists and neo-Nazis have threatened violence against the Riga Gay Pride march. They have vowed to stop it taking place. Nearly 17,000 people have signed a petition demanding the march be stopped.

Last year’s Riga Gay Pride march was violently attacked. This year, the homophobic opposition is better organised and poses an even greater threat to the safety of the marchers.

The request to stage the march had been made by Mozaîka, the Latvian association of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered persons (LBGT) and their friends, and by the gay rights organisations ILGA Latvija and Rîgas Praids.

“We are shocked by the city council’s decision, which we view as not only an unacceptable restriction of the freedom of assembly, but a major blow to democracy in the face of terrorist threats,” said Mozaîka board member Linda Freimane.

“We are preparing to challenge the decision in the Administrative Court today. Last year the Administrative Court acted very correctly by overturning the city council’s decision to revoke the Pride march permit, and so we are very hopeful that this year, too, the Court will defend democratic rights in Latvia by overturning the council’s decision.”

British gay human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, has flown to Latvia to attend Riga Pride, and to support the Gay Pride organisers.

Mr Tatchell said the city council decision “echoes the bad old days of Soviet tyranny”.

“It is scandalous that a member state of the EU is giving in to threats and blackmail by religious fundamentalists and the far right. This ban fits a pattern of homophobia by the Latvian authorities. The Latvian parliament recently refused to pass a law prohibiting employment discrimination against lesbians and gays, even though as a member state of the EU it is required to outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Latvia has also banned same-sex marriage,” says Mr Tatchell.

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