British gay rights campaigner briefly held in Moscow over protest

Veteran British LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchellis is detained by police officers during a one-man protest in central Moscow June 14, 2018. — Reuters pic
Veteran British LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchellis is detained by police officers during a one-man protest in central Moscow June 14, 2018. — Reuters pic

MOSCOW, June 14 — Russian police briefly detained veteran British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell in Moscow today for what police described as an illegal protest on the first day of the football World Cup.

Tatchell, who has held similar protests around the world, was detained after attempting to hold a one-man protest near Red Square to draw attention to what he said were appalling human rights abuses committed against gay men in Chechnya.

The activist said he spent an hour and 40 minutes in police custody before being released.

He will now be required to appear in court on June 26, accused of breaking a federal law on the holding of public meetings and demonstrations, as well as a special presidential decree that prohibits protests during the World Cup, Tatchell said in a statement.

“Senior officers were stern but the apprehending officer very helpful, friendly and polite,” the campaigner said.

“I presume I was well treated, partly because I am a British citizen and because a senior British Embassy consular official... contacted the police. I guess the Russians also did not want to be seen as being heavy-handed during the World Cup,” he added.

“Our staff in Moscow are assisting Peter Tatchell who was arrested, and subsequently released, in Russia earlier today. We have spoken to the local authorities and are pleased to confirm that he is well and has now been released,” the British embassy in Moscow wrote on social media.

One-man protest

The campaigner began his protest today by unfurling a poster which read: “Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people.”

Russian police quickly shut his protest down, with one officer telling Tatchell to stop what he was doing.

“During the World Cup it is forbidden to hold any action like this against Putin, against all these things,” the policeman told him.

Tatchell told the policeman he wanted to meet Putin to discuss gay rights in Russia, where any event or act regarded by the authorities as an attempt to promote homosexuality to minors is illegal and punishable by a fine.

“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,” Tatchell said, adding he had been detained in Russia twice before and that his one-man protest had been lawful.

Two men from Chechnya told Reuters in June last year they had been detained by police and subjected to torture and beatings because they were gay, which is considered a crime by some in their deeply conservative Muslim region of Russia.

The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta also reported that some of the men rounded up had been killed. Chechen officials said that and all other related allegations were false, saying there were no gay men in the region to be persecuted.

Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the British parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said he was troubled by Tatchell’s treatment.

“I am deeply, deeply concerned at the report of the arrest of Peter Tatchell who is a man who has campaigned for human rights and civil rights for many, many years,” Tugendhat told parliament. — Reuters

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