Seventeen protesters have reportedly been arrested during a May Day march in Russia with police charging them under St Petersburg’s ban on homosexual propaganda and failure to comply with police orders because some of them were trying to fly rainbow flags and gay-positive posters.
Members of the group were detained while trying to unfurl rainbow flags at a rally organised by opposition groups, activists said. Police said they were to be charged with failing to co-operate with officers.
“The first activists who unfurled their flags were detained. Some tried to raise posters, they were also detained,” said Yury Gavrikov, a local gay rights leader. “Two police officers would grab each person, with no warning.”
More than 30,000 people took part in the city’s May Day celebrations, officials said. The rally was led by the ruling United Russia party, but also included representatives of the Communist party and nationalist groups.
This year’s May 1st march is a peaceful demonstration, permitted by the city administration. LGBT activists were marching as part of a larger “democratic” column, consisting of various democratic and civil society groups of St. Petersburg. 5 minutes into the march, police requested removal of rainbow flags. When activists refused, they were forcefully detained and are now facing charges of “propaganda of homosexuality” and non-compliance with the police. One activist was detained for holding a sign “homophobia is illegal.”
17 activists are still being held by the police. Among those detained are Igor Kochetkov, chairman of the Russian LGBT Network, Mikhail Belodedov of Coming Out, Sergey Kondrashov, lawyer and straight ally, and Elena Popova, director of St. Petersburg organization “Soldier’s mothers”, defending rights of draftees.
St Petersburg enacted a law on March 30 that bans citizens from transmitting “homosexual propaganda” in public.
Legal commentators have warned that the ban is so nebulous it may be unenforceable.
Adding weight to this, a judge recently declined to invoke the new St Petersburg law during sentencing a man who held up a gay positive sign in public because the law’s definition of what constitutes “propaganda” is so wide it is almost meaningless.
The Ryazan, Kostroma and Arkhangelsk regions have also banned so-called LGBT propaganda all under the guise of protecting minors.
There is now a push to enact a federal ban.
It recently emerged that the St Petersburg law is likely to have been inspired by a US evangelical.