LGBT+ and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has been arrested during a one-man protest against Russia’s mistreatment of LGBT+ people, as the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Moscow.
Mr Tatchell was holding a banner supporting gay men who have been violently targeted in a purge in Chechnya while standing next to the statue of Marshal Zhukov close to the Kremlin.
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.
Peter Tatchell, speaking from Moscow before the protest, said:
“I was exercising my lawful right to protest, under the Russian constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression and the right to protest in Articles 29 and 31. A one-person protest, which is what I did, requires no permission from the authorities and the police.
“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.
“Unlike brave Russian protesters, I have the ‘protection’ of a British passport, which means I have been treated more leniently than they are.
“My fate was mild compared to what often happens to Russians who dare to challenge the Putin regime. I am awed by their courage.”
“President Putin has failed to condemn and act against the homophobic witch-hunts in Chechnya, which have seen scores of LGBT+ people arrested and tortured, with some even being killed.
“The singer Zelim Bakaev disappeared in Chechnya in August 2017 and has never been seen since.
“Russia’s 2013 anti-gay law against so-called ‘homosexual propaganda’ has been used to suppress peaceful LGBT+ protests, sack LGBT+ teachers and suppress welfare organisations that support LGBT+ teenagers.
“Little action has been taken by the Russian government and police to crack down on far right extremists who target LGBT+ people for violent and humiliating assaults – including the instigators of the current threats to bash and stab LGBT+ football fans at the World Cup.”
Update – Peter Tatchell has been released following his arrest during a peaceful protest close to the Kremlin.
Mr Tatchell received consular assistance during his detention.
Speaking from Moscow, Mr Tatchell said:
“I am required 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. I have been told I will be free to leave Russia on that date as planned. I spent one hour and 40 minutes in police custody, from the moment I was detained near the Kremlin to the moment of my release from the police station.
“Senior officers were stern but the apprehending officer very helpful, friendly and polite. 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.”