The violence comes during an unnerving year for gays and lesbians in Russia. Three cities, including St. Petersburg, have passed laws criminalizing “homosexual propaganda,” and a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, the country’s predominant faith, has endorsed an initiative to introduce the laws nationwide.
So far, no such law has been passed in the capital. However, a measure banning gay pride parades in Moscow for a century, until May 2112, was upheld by the city’s highest court in August.
More than 50 people were in the club, 7freedays, one of a handful of gay-friendly bars in the city, when attackers entered, wearing surgical masks and hoods. Some revelers initially took them for performers planning to join an open-mic session, but then they began to overturn tables and assault patrons, witnesses said.
“I thought at any moment they would take off the masks, but it turned out it had nothing to do with the program,” said Pavel Samburov, an activist for the Raduzhnaya gay-rights group, who was at the bar on Thursday. Instead, the men yelled, “You asked for a fight? Now you’ll get it,” and attacked. They ran out less than five minutes later, before police officers arrived.
“It was a pogrom,” Mr. Samburov added.
Nikolai Alekseyev, the founder of the Moscow Gay Pride movement, said that the attack on the club, which is in the center of the capital, showed that antigay groups were becoming increasingly aggressive. “They believe that they won’t be caught and won’t be punished for this,” he said.
Alyona Khromova, a patron at 7freedays on Thursday, told Radio Free Europe’s Russian service that one of the men pulled a gun on the bartender, and that one sprayed a caustic substance into the face of another man, who was taken to the hospital. One woman remained hospitalized Friday evening after a shard of glass cut her eye when the assailants broke her glasses.