By Alex Ralph
Peter Tatchell, the gay rights activist, has stepped down as a Green parliamentary candidate, claiming that brain injuries sustained from attacks by Robert Mugabe’s bodyguards and Russian neo-Nazis have left him unfit to campaign.
Mr Tatchell, 57, said it was with “huge disappointment and frustration” that he has been forced not to fight the Oxford East seat in the coming general election.
“My brain injuries from the Mugabe and Moscow bashings mean that I would not be able to campaign effectively or do the duties required of an MP, if I was elected,” he said. “I could manage the parliamentary duties or the constituency work, but my health is not strong enough for me to do both. It would not be right for me to seek election if I could not do the job of an MP to the high standards that I want.”
Mr Tatchell would have faced a tough campaign to win the seat from Labour. The Green Party took only 4.3 per cent of the vote in the last general election, although it was the highest-polling party in Oxford East in the county council elections in June.
In 2001 Mr Tatchell was knocked out by Mr Mugabe’s bodyguards after he had attempted to make a citizen’s arrest of the Zimbabwean President outside a hotel in Brussels on charges of torture. He was left with poor vision in his right eye and his memory, concentration and balance have been affected ever since.
Six years later his injuries were aggravated when, a month after he was selected for the seat, he was attacked by neo-Nazis at a gay pride event in Moscow. His condition deteriorated in July when a bus he was travelling on swerved and he hit his head on a rail. Earlier this year his doctor told him to reduce his workload, but he had postponed the announcement because he hoped to recover.
“I don’t regret a thing. Getting a thrashing and brain injuries was not what I had expected or wanted. But I was aware of the risks,” he said.
“Taking risks is sometimes necessary in order to challenge injustice. My beatings had the positive effect of helping draw international attention to the violent, repressive nature of the Russian and Zimbabwean regimes. I’m glad of that.”
His injuries had not prevented him from campaigning, but had made him slower and more prone to making mistakes, he said. “Following the Moscow assault, I never rested and recuperated. I carried on campaigning, with a very heavy schedule of commitments in Oxford East. This stress and exhaustion probably intensified the damage and thwarted my recovery.”
Mr Tatchell, who was born in Australia, stood as a Labour Party parliamentary candidate for Bermondsey in the 1983 by-election and has become a prominent human rights and equality campaigner.
He returned to Moscow earlier this year and was arrested as gay rights activists tried to demonstrate at the Eurovision Song Contest final. Moscow’s mayor had earlier described homosexuality as “satanic” and the authorities had banned the march.
Oxford East Green Party will select a candidate in January and Mr Tatchell has said that he will help the campaign. Times Online