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World Cup: Gay rights activist detained in Moscow for 'illegal' protest against Chechnya

Peter Tatchell, a United Kingdom based LGBTQ rights activist, was arrested in Moscow on Thursday just hours before the World Cup opening match was set to kick off. Tatchell was mounting a one-man protest near the Kremlin, holding a sign that said “Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people.”

Tatchell was protesting the treatment of gay people in the Russian republic of Chechnya. During his protest, he approached by several Moscow policeman, and after a short (but polite) conversation, they quietly led Tatchell away and into a police car. He was released several hours later, undeterred by his encounter with law enforcement and defiant about the circumstances of his arrest.

Tatchell was arrested for violating the presidential decree that bans protests near the Kremlin during the World Cup. On his website, Tatchell described why he decided to mount his one-man protest.

“I am here in Moscow to call out FIFA over giving the 2018 World Cup to a human rights-abusing country like Russia and FIFA’s failure to tackle homophobia and racism by football leagues, clubs, players and fans.

“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.

“FIFA has recklessly given the World Cup 2022 to Qatar where the human rights abuses are even worse. […]

“I am fearful of arrest and violent attack but undeterred. Inspired by the campaigning and heroism of Russian LGBTs, I’m acting in solidarity with their battle for equal human rights.

Homophobia is common in Russia, where homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993. In 2013, a law was passed that essentially bans gay activism. But while Russia proper has its own problems with gay rights, Tatchell was specifically protesting the treatment of gay men in Chechnya. Chechnya, which is mostly Muslim, began brutally cracking down on gay men in 2017, with an estimated 100 men caught up in the “gay purge.” One of them was Maxim Lapunov, an openly gay Siberian businessman who traveled to Chechnya on business, who was arrested and beaten in a blood-soaked cellar for 12 days.

Russian police detain Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, center, as he holds a banner that read “Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people” near Red Square in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, June 14, 2018. A British LGBT activist has been detained has been detained near the Red Square for holding a one-man protest against Russia’s abuse of gays. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

This is not the first time Tatchell has been to Russia to support LGBT rights. According to his website, Tatchell has been to Russia five times to support members of the Russian LGBTQ community who were trying to hold a Pride parade and festival. Tatchell says that each time, the festivities were suppressed by authorities, who arrested him twice, and once beat him nearly unconsciousness.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on Twitter at @lizroscher.

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