Russian Police Arrest 25 Gay Activists At Pride Rally

Dmitri LovetskyAP Images

Russian police have arrested 25 gay activists who took part in a pride rally in the city of Saint Petersburg, The Independent reports.

A few dozen activists gathered at an unsanctioned pride rally in the second-largest Russian city Saturday afternoon, in an effort to protest a ban on the rally imposed by Vladimir Putin’s government. Protest organizers had planned on staging protests to demand freedom of association, but Russian authorities swiftly reacted, arresting 25 activists gathered on Saint Petersburg’s Palace Square.

The Independent notes that the gathering coincided with LGBT pride marches and celebrations around the world. Although such protests and rallies are commonplace in Europe and the United States, they are considered gay propaganda in Russia.

In 2013, as the Russian Legal Information Agency reported, Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill banning the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations.” The law sparked controversy, attracting criticism from the West. Foreign Ministry’s rights envoy, Konstantin Dolgov, defended the law in the following statement.

“As to the criticism of our law banning homosexual propaganda we have to reiterate that this criticism is absolutely invalid and groundless. This convention aims in part to protect children from harmful information, and we believe that promotion of homosexuality could harm them. Therefore, we are fulfilling our obligations, but our critics attempt to accuse us of violating some obligations that don’t exist. It is a misleading substitution of notions.”

According to the Russian Legal Information agency, polls show that 88 percent of Russian citizens support the law, and 54 percent of all surveyed Russians believe that homosexuality should be criminalized.

In 2014, the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, defended the law, telling BBC that it “does not harm anybody,” and adding that there is no social or professional discrimination of LGBT individuals in Russia. To further illustrate his point, Putin told BBC‘s Andrew Marr that the openly gay artist Elton John – who condemned the law during a performance in Moscow – is loved by millions “regardless of his sexual orientation.”

A 2017 Reuters report, however, contradicts Putin’s claims. Citing Center for Independent Social Research’s data, Reuters noted that LGBT hate crimes in Russia have doubled after the controversial anti-gay law had passed. Furthermore, according to the same source, murders accounted for almost 200 out of 250 hate crimes analyzed.

Researchers told Reuters that Putin’s “gay propaganda” law is, in fact, meant to detain gay rights activists, and stop pride marches. However, they also noted that their figures are nothing but a rough estimate, considering most LGBT hate crimes in Russia are not reported. In Russia, homosexuality was considered a criminal offense until 1993.