Images: Peter Tatchell Foundation
Ahead of the FIFA World Cup opening, activist Peter Tatchell was arrested in Russia on Thursday during a one-man protest against the country’s mistreatment of the LGBT+ community.
The arrest happened in the capital, Moscow, after the veteran British campaigner held up a placard in support of gay men who have been violently targeted in Chechnya’s gay purge.
The sign read:”Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people.”
Tatchell was standing next to the statue of former Soviet Army officer, Marshal Zhokuv, close to the Kremlin, at the time of his arrest. He was led away by officers to a car and taken to a police station.
“This is the campaigner’s sixth visit to Russia in solidarity with the LGBT+ freedom struggle there. He was previously arrested twice during protests in Moscow and suffered brain damage after being attacked by Russian neo-Nazis in 2007,” the Foundation wrote in its press statement.
Tatchell said he was exercising his right to lawful protesting, before being arrested by police officials. “Getting arrested is standard for Russians who protest for LGBT+ rights or against corruption, economic injustice and Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its bombing of civilians in Syria,” Tatchell said. He added that, “President Putin has failed to condemn and act against the homophobic witch-hunts in Chechnya.”
The crackdown against gay men in Chechnya gained international media attention last year, following reports that dozens of people suspected to be gay were arrested, tortured and even allegedly killed in the semi-autonomous Russian republic.
In the weeks before the World Cup, which is controversially being held in Russia, English LGBT+ soccer fans reportedly received threats of violence from anti-gay Russians if they visited the country. The FIFA World Cup runs from 14 June until 15 July.
Under Russia’s so called gay-propaganda law, it is illegal to display signs representing or supporting the LGBT+ community or to show same-sex affection in public. Officials in Russia have said that international LGBT+ football fans would not be targeted for holding rainbow flags or showing affection, but Tatchell’s protest was clearly a step too far.
In 2014, Italian transgender activist Vladimir Luxuria was arrested by Russian officers after she walked around the Sochi Winter Games’ Olympic Park wearing a rainbow outfit and headdress and shouting “Gay is OK” and “It’s OK to be gay” in English and Russian.
As part of raising awareness on LGBTI+ discrimination in Russia, the All Out site has called on those who are not in Russia to show support by using the #WorldCup hashtag and posting a photo holding up the rainbow flag on their social media. You can find more details on how to be a part of this campaign here.
UPDATE: After almost two hours in custody, Peter Tatchell was released and ordered to appear in court on 26 June for violating Federal Law 54 and Presidential Decree 202, which prohibit all protests near the Kremlin and during the World Cup.
“I have written a letter to the Chief of Police of Kitay-Gorod police district, requesting that my court appearance is voided on the grounds that I am flying back to the UK on 18 June,” said Tatchell. “I presume I was well treated, partly because I am a UK citizen and because a senior British Embassy consular official, Colin Wells, contacted the police. I guess the Russians also did not want to be seen as being heavy-handed during the World Cup.”