World News

UK gay rights activist arrested in Russia as World Cup opens

Posted June 14, 2018 9:44 a.m. EDT

— UK-based gay rights activist Peter Tatchell was briefly detained by police in Moscow on the opening day of the month-long World Cup soccer tournament in Russia, according to his official Twitter account.

Video of Tatchell's protest on Thursday showed him holding a sign which read: "Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people." He was then approached by several police officers and taken to a police station, before later being released.

After his release, Tatchell tweeted that he was due to appear in court on June 26 accused of violating laws which bar "all protests near the Kremlin & during World Cup."

He added that he was pleased to stand in solidarity with members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Russia and Chechnya, a Russian republic.

Witnesses and victims reported a brutal crackdown on gay men in Chechnya last year, with hundreds of men allegedly held and abused in detention centers because of their sexual orientation.

The reports prompted an international backlash. Chechnya's leader dismissed the furor in a TV interview, however, asserting that there are no gays in his Russian republic and saying they should be removed from the region if there are. A Chechen government spokesman called the allegations of a crackdown "an absolute lie."

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, but homophobia and discrimination are still common.

In a statement posted on his website on Wednesday, Tatchell said he was in Moscow to "call out" FIFA -- soccer's international governing body -- over giving the World Cup to Russia "and FIFA's failure to tackle homophobia and racism by football leagues, clubs, players and fans."

He added: "It is appalling that this tournament is being held in a country where gay football fans are openly threatened that they will be hunted down, beaten and stabbed." Tatchell said he had been to Russia on five previous occasions to protest gay rights and had been arrested twice.

British fans traveling to Russia for the World Cup have been warned about threats of racism and violence by Russian "hooligans," including "heightened risks" to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

A UK Foreign Affairs Committee report released earlier in June said LGBT fans are at "significant risk," as they "not only face the risk of violence from vigilante groups, but lack adequate protection from the state."

The Russian government has made efforts to promote the World Cup as taking place in a tolerant and friendly atmosphere, despite the current geopolitical tensions.

Retired Chelsea midfielder Alexei Smertin was appointed by the Russian Football Union to lead efforts to combat racism and discrimination during the World Cup.

"It is very important to continue working with a younger generation of fans and young players, explain to them through games and sports about respect not only for their team, but also for their rivals, to convey the idea that everyone in this world is equal," he said in May, according to a statement cited by Russian state news agency TASS.