By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com February 07 2014 4:01 PM ET
Judging by police behavior surrounding several demonstrations that took place in Russia in the past 24 hours, the country's ban on so-called gay propaganda only extends to those taking a pro-LGBT stance, not those spreading antigay hate.
Four LGBT activists were arrested in St. Petersburg as they attempted to unfurl a banner quoting the Olympic Charter's promise of sport without discrimination, reports BuzzFeed. The activists were unexpectedly surrounded by police as they approached the site of their picket, a bride in central St. Petersburg. They intended to hold a banner that read "Discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic Movement. Principle 6. Olympic Charter," but police interrupted the demonstration as the activists tried to snap photos with the banner. Some activists suspect government officials were spying on private phone conversations, since the planned protest was not publicized and only those involved were aware that it was taking place.
According to a Facebook post from the Russian LGBT Network, the activists included Anastasiya Smirnova, Aleksandra Semenova, and a pregnant woman. All four activists were taken to the 16th precinct police department, where they were reportedly released around 9 a.m. Pacific today. The activists were charged with "participation in an illegal public assembly," according to a post on Smirnova's Facebook page. While she was still detained, Smirnova managed to post a poignant question on Facebook: "Detention for a photo with a banner — isn't it an amazing way to celebrate the Opening of the Games? #CheersToSochi," she wrote.
Just hours later, as many as 10 LGBT activists were arrested in Moscow's Red Square as they sang the Russian national anthem and waved rainbow and Russian flags.
According to Russian journalist and AP photographer Yury Gavrikov, those arrested included Elena Kostyuchenko, Anna Annenkov, Gleb Latnik, Rèjda Lynn Nicks, Nèmeni Olga Mazurova, Taya Polyakova, another Russian woman and two Swedish women. All those arrested were taken to the Moscow police station.
Gavrikov posted this video of the activists being detained as they sang the Russian National Anthem, apparently filmed by LGBT site Grani.ru:
But while Russian police are often suspiciously quick to arrest LGBT demonstrators, they reportedly left an antigay demonstration in Sochi carry on uninterrupted. Sports Illustrated posted video of the small demonstration, noting that its staffers stumbled across the protest outside the Sochi train station. The picketers held signs in Russian and English, including a classic that LGBT Americans are likely familiar with seeing at Pride celebrations, declaring that "Homo Sex Is Sin." Watch a brief video of the antigay rally in Sochi below:
As SI notes, the demonstration in Sochi appears to violate the ban on demonstrations in the Olympic host city issued by President Vladimir Putin last year. The Kremlin and the International Olympic Committee did backtrack on the blanket ban on demonstrations slightly last month, when IOC president Thomas Bach announced that a special "protest zone" would be set up for those wishing to demonstrate in the neighboring town of Khosta, approximately seven miles from the arenas in Olympic Park. Even those demonstrations in the designated zone, however, must be approved by the government and reportedly cannot pertain directly to the Olympics.