by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
MOSCOW, Russia – Russian police arrested fourteen gay rights protesters in Moscow and St. Petersburg on Friday, shortly before the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
In the incident Moscow, Russian police detained ten protesters in the City’s Red Square after they had been waiving rainbow flags. In the incident in St. Petersburg, four protesters were waving displaying a banner which included the language of the Olympic Charter which bars any form of discrimination.
A Russian law banning gay “propaganda” from reaching minors has elicited international criticism since its passing, with some calling for a boycott of the Sochi Olympic Games. Russian law also bans any unsanctioned protests.
Anastasia Smirnova, one of Russia’s leading gay activists and an arrestee in the St. Petersburg protest, posted a thank-you to supporters on her Facebook page, writing, “Can’t write much as phones are not permitted, and they are now calling us to sign papers. Cosmic hugs to you from our police station … Detention for a photo with a banner — isn’t it an amazing way to celebrate the Opening of the Games?”
Western powers have been urging Russia to rescind its anti-gay laws since before the commencement of the Sochi Games. On Friday, President Putin met with Dutch authorities who challenged the country’s gay laws, but President Putin opined that the Winter Olympic Games should be about sports and not about discussing political views.
Some world leaders, such as U.S. President Barack Obama, have chosen to stay away from the Games completely, while other world leaders appeared less troubled by the issue. Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulated Putin on the Olympics and praised their countries’ growing alliance. China’s state-controlled media has barely reported on the Russian anti-gay propaganda law.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is also in attendance at the Games, and has advocated for gay equality in sports. “Many professional athletes, gay and straight, are speaking out against prejudice. We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people. We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face.”
Corporations have spoken out, either explicitly on the issue, as well. Google changed its homepage logo to depict illustrations of athletes skiing, sledding, curling and skating against a rainbow-colored backdrop and language from the Olympic charter that bans discrimination. The company has stated that it wanted the illustration to speak for itself. The logo has widely been interpreted as support for gay rights and a rebuke of Russia’s propaganda law.
For more information, please see:
Al Jazeera – Russian LGBT Activists Arrested on First Day of Sochi Games – 7 February 2014
The Independent – Winter Olympics 2014: Sochi Protesters Arrested Over Banner Citing Olympic Charter’s Words Against Discrimination – 7 February 2014
New York Times – Scores Detained in Russia Before Olympic Ceremony – 7 February 2014
Reuters – Gay Rights Protesters Detained in Russia as Games Start- Activists – 7 February 2014