Russian police spy on LGBT activists, arrest 14

Russian police, who seemingly have a bug or an informant reporting on LGBT activists’ plans, arrested a total of 14 activists in St. Petersburg and Moscow during today’s opening of the Sochi Winter Olympics.

AP reported from St. Petersburg:

Anastasia Smirnova (Photo courtesy of Civil Rights Defenders)
Anastasia Smirnova (Photo courtesy of Civil Rights Defenders)

Russian police have arrested four gay rights activists protesting [Friday, Feb. 7] in St. Petersburg on the opening day of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

During Friday’s protest, four gay activists unfurled a banner quoting the Olympic Charter’s ban on any form of discrimination. The protesters, who gathered on St. Petersburg’s Vasilyevsky Island, were quickly rounded up by police, according to Natalia Tsymbalova, a local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activist.

BuzzFeed added:

One of those arrested at around 3:45 p.m. local time on Friday was Anastasia Smirnova, who has served as a coordinator and spokeswoman for a coalition of six leading Russian LGBT activist organizations. Activists have asked that the names of the three others not be published. They noted that one of them is pregnant.

An LGBT activist who witnessed the arrests told BuzzFeed from St. Petersburg that the four protestors had stopped on their way to a bridge leading to the picturesque Vasilyevskiy Ostrov neighborhood to take some pictures when they were suddenly surrounded by police cars. The arrival of the police was so sudden that activists had no idea how they had even learned of the planned protest.

Similarly, on Feb. 5, when LGBT rights protesters tried to displays banners at metro stations, they were blocked by police who seemed to know their plans in advance. Russia’s Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality stated, “The police appeared to know about the event planned for the metro stations despite the fact that it was prepared in secret and not publicised in advance. There was a leak.”

BuzzFeed reported that, “Like the activists arrested in St. Petersburg earlier on Friday, [protest organizer Elena] Kostyuchenko believes police knew about the protest in advance by tapping her phone, and were waiting for them. She said that she changed the location 30 minutes before the protest, and only communicated the new location through phone calls and text messages, which she believes were intercepted. ”

“I think they hear my phone and read my text messages,” she told BuzzFeed. “I can’t explain it any [other] way.”

The protests in both cities focused on the Russian law, passed last year, that bans positive discussion of homosexuality wherever minors might be present. Russia also prohibits unsanctioned protests, which can be punished by fines or prison sentences.

In further news about the St. Petersburg arrests, the local LGBT organization Coming Out reported that the activists were “taking photos with a banner in a scenic location in St. Petersburg, Strelka of Vasilyevsky Ostrov, with Neva River and the Hermitage in the background, facing nothing but a solid wall in front of them.” Further:

The banner, quoting the Olympic Charter “any form of discrimination is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement” (in Russian) was intended for a later action in a different location, with the goal to inform the Russian public about the non-discrimination language of the Olympic Movement. In the meanwhile, activists were enjoying a small photo-shoot to make sure that if later detained, they would at least have some photographs for private use.

In a matter of minutes several police cars arrived, carrying a truly formidable number of policemen, and the activists were detained without a warning. They were held for three hours and charged with violating Article 20.2 part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offences – organizing or holding an illegal public action, punishable by an administrative fine in the amount of twenty thousand to thirty thousand rubles (425-640 EUR). The court date is set for tomorrow, Saturday, February 8.

AP also reported the arrests of LGBT rights protesters at Red Square in Moscow:

In Moscow, police quickly detained 10 gay rights activists who waved rainbow flags Friday on Red Square and attempted to sing a Russian anthem.

One of the demonstrators, Gleb Latnik, said police insulted them and that one officer even spat in the face of an activist. He said he, and other protesters were released a few hours later.

See video of the Moscow arrests here.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.


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