LGBTQ Rights Activist Arrested Then Released While Protesting At Russia World Cup

A prominent British gay rights campaigner has been arrested and then released after holding a protest prior to the inauguration of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Peter Tatchell was standing holding a sign in Moscow's Red Square that read: "Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people," photos and videos shared to social media on Thursday showed.

Before long, several police officers approached the LGBTQ activist and led him to a police vehicle nearby. After questioning Tatchell, the officers drove him away. According to posts on Tatchell's verified Twitter account as well as the official account of his foundation, was detained and taken to the Tverskaya Police Station.

A message published on Tatchell's Twitter around 5 p.m. Moscow time announced that he had been released.

"I've spoken to the Consulate Gen. who says he has been bailed & treated well. Thank you for the all the good wishes. Let's remember the awful plight of LGBTs in Russian & Chechnya," an associate of Tatchell's wrote.

He later wrote, "Just released from Kitay-Gorod police station in Moscow. Due to appear in court on 26 June, charged with violating Federal Law 54 & Presidential Decree 202, which prohibit all protests near the Kremlin & during World Cup. Glad to stand in solidarity with Russian & Chechen LGBTs."

According to The Independent, one-man protests are normally allowed without official approval. Only protests involving two or more individuals require authorization. However, Russia has implemented a temporary ban on all protests in some areas during the World Cup.

On Wednesday, an article written by Tatchell was published in The Guardian, in which he explained his plans to protest during the international sporting event in Moscow.

"Unlike thousands of fans, I won't be cheering on this festival of football. LGBT+ people and many other Russians suffer state-sanctioned persecution and far-right violence," the activist wrote. "These abuses need to be challenged. Russia's 2013 anti-gay law against 'homosexual propaganda' has been used to suppress peaceful LGBT+ protests, sack LGBT+ teachers and suppress welfare organizations that support LGBT+ teenagers."

He went on to explain that "far-right and ultra-nationalist gangs have threatened to bash and stab LGBT+ football fans. The authorities have taken no discernible action against the perpetrators of these criminal threats."

According to Tatchell, this marks his sixth trip to Russia. He said he has been arrested twice before and also suffered brain damage after a 2007 attack by Russian neo-Nazis.

Legislation in Russia, often referred to as the "gay propaganda" law, places restraints on portrayals of LGBT relationships as equal to heterosexual unions. However, Russia's Football Union said it would not ban World Cup visitors from exhibiting Rainbow pride flags and Alexei Smertin, an ex-football player who is now the union's anti-racism inspector, said people would not be fined for "expressing their feelings."

According to reports, the situation for the LGBT community is particularly dire in the Russian Republic of Chechnya. News reports and rights groups reported in 2017 that a large number of gay men had been imprisoned and tortured.

Tatchell said that his mission in Russia was to raise awareness about the plight of Russia's LGBT community and now allow President Vladimir Putin to use the event as a PR stunt.

"Most LGBT+ people in Russia are understandably too afraid to openly protest against their persecution. They fear arrest and being attacked by extremists. I am afraid too, but to win freedom sometimes we have to be prepared to take risks," he wrote for The Guardian.