A Russian LGBT activist has been arrested for unfurling a Rainbow Flag as the Olympic Torch Relay passed through Voronezh, 900km north of Sochi where the Winter Olympics will take place in February this year.

According to a report in the International Business Times:

Pavel Lebedev was grappled to the snow by Olympic security personnel and taken into the police station “to clarify the circumstances of the incident”, according to a post by the group Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality on VKontakte (the Russian equivalent of Facebook).

The arrest comes just days after controversial remarks by Russian president Vladimir Putin, where the premier in one breath guaranteed the safety and welcome of LGBT people to Russia for Sochi, and in the next, compared them to paedophiles and warned them to stay away from the kids.  Speaking to a group of Olympic volunteers, Putin said:

“We have a ban on the propaganda of homosexuality and paedophilia. I want to emphasise this. Among children. These are completely different things — a ban on something, or a ban on such relationships or a ban on propaganda of such relationships. So you will feel quite secure, at ease, but leave kids alone, please,”

These comments come in the context of a rising tide of homophobia in Russia which is seeing the lives of LGBT Russians blighted by legislative and social persecution for their sexual orientation.  The moves have been spearheaded by the powerful Russian Orthodox church, whose leader described Equal Marriage as the sign of the Apocalypse, and Neo Nazi groups who have pledged to “bully, kidnap, and publicly torture” gay Russians.  The Orthodox Church claims they are fighting for the spitirual purity of the nation, while the Neo-Nazis claim argue LGBT people are paedophiles, and use the words homosexual and paedophile interchangeably.  There were several high profile murders in Russia last year, hate crimes committed purely because of the persons sexuality.

  • In May, police found the body of 23 year old Vladislav Tornovoi dumped in a courtyard in Volgograd.  He was naked, his skull was smashed in and he had been raped with beer bottles.
  • Just weeks later, a 39 year old was stabbed and trampled to death in a village on Russia’s eastern coast
  • A short while after that, 19 year old Alex Bluygin was kidnapped, tortured and later died from his injuries – but not before pictures of his torture were shared across social media by the Neo Nazi group responsible.

Alex is not alone.  According to PinkNews:

“The videos are too shocking and indecent to be published on PinkNews. One features a victim being sprayed with urine, another (the young man believed to have died) is forced to play with a sex toy. Another is stripped and forced to put his face into a toilet and drink the water. One teenager is stripped and forced into a bathe and then made to brandish a sex toy. It is unclear how or why the videos were made and released. It remains a possibility that the videos do not reflect what actually has been claimed to have occurred.”

This vigilante violence meted out upon the LGBT community has been replicated with legislative violence, in the shape of new anti-gay laws.  In December, the bill banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” was by passed by the State Duma with 436-0 votes.

According to a report by CBS News:

The legislation will impose hefty fines for providing information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, community to minors or holding gay pride rallies. Breaching the law will carry a fine of up to 5,000 rubles ($156) for an individual and up to 1 million rubles ($31,000) for media organizations.

In a statement responding to the passing of the legislation, Graeme Reid, LGBT Program Director for Human Rights Watch wrote:

“Russia is trying very hard to make discrimination look respectable by calling it `tradition,’ but whatever term is used in the bill, it remains discrimination and a violation of the basic human rights of LGBT people,”

Russia faces protest by myriad groups when it holds the Sochi Winter Olympics 2014, for the treatment of LGBT people, with some questioning the suitability of Russia holding the games while such a situation persists.

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About The Author

Kerry-anne Mendoza is a writer, blogger and activist. She is the author of the Scriptonite Daily blog which explores matters of current affairs, politics, economics and ideas. She is also a contributor to New Internationalist, openDemocracy, Trebuchet Magazine, the Occupy News Network and others. She is based in the UK, and left her career as a Management Consultant having held senior positions in banking, local government and the NHS to be part of the Occupy Movement. She has since worked as a writer and campaigner for social, economic and environmental justice.