Pavel Lebedev is manhandled by security personnel

In a very public display of Russia’s “gay propaganda” law in action, an LGBT activist was immediately arrested when he unfurled a rainbow flag during the Olympic torch relay on Saturday.

A series of pictures posted online show Pavel Lebedev holding up the small rainbow flag as the procession passes through the snowy Russian town of Voronezh, ahead of next month’s Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

As bystanders watch, he is then approached by security personnel and police who wrestle with him and take away the flag before detaining him.

Lebedev spoke to AP while still at a police station. He said that “Hosting the games here contradicts the basic principles of the Olympics, which is to cultivate tolerance.”

Russia’s regional and federal laws banning gay “propaganda” to “protect” children have been used to restrict press freedom and gay-friendly music concerts, to ban gay Pride events and protests and have led to an increase in violence and discrimination against LGBT people.

The laws have led to calls for a boycott of Russia’s Olympic Games.

In an interview with foreign media broadcast on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted that gay athletes and visitors would not be discriminated against in Sochi.

“There are no fears for people with this non-traditional orientation who plan to come to Sochi as guests or participants,” Putin said.

He nevertheless went on to justify the anti-gay laws with blatantly ignorant and homophobic arguments. He said that children had to be protected from homosexuality and paedophilia, suggesting that the two are linked and that homosexuality could be “learned” by children.

He also argued that homosexuality could hamper Russia’s much-needed population growth.

Putin further claimed that protests against the laws themselves would be allowed. However, previous attempts to protest against the laws have been stopped by the authorities who have also arrested the participants.

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