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Four gay rights activists arrested in Russia during Olympics protest

Friday, February 7, 2014
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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Russian police have arrested four gay rights activists protesting in St. Petersburg on the opening day of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Dmitry Lovetsky, AP

Dmitry Lovetsky, AP (File)

During Friday’s protest, four gay activists unfurled a banner quoting the Olympic charter’s language against discrimination.

The protesters, who gathered on St. Petersburg’s Vasilyevsky Island, were quickly rounded up by police, according to Natalia Tsymbalova, a local LGBT activist. Police refused any immediate comment.

According to the Russian LGBT Network, the activists were taking photos with a banner that said, “Discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic Movement. Principle 6. Olympic Charter”.

One LGBT activist who witnessed the arrests told BuzzFeed from St Petersburg that the four protestors had stopped on their way to a bridge to take some pictures when they were suddenly surrounded by police cars. The arrival of the police was so sudden that activists had no idea how they had even learned of the planned protest.

“Either the phones are being listened to or maybe there are cameras all over the city; only a few people knew about this action,” said the activist, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear for her safety.

Activist Anastasia Smirnova led the group holding a banner, according to the Russian LGBT network.

The incident is believed to be the first arrests under Russia’s gay propaganda law during the Olympic games, and comes just hours ahead of the start of the opening ceremony in Sochi.

A Russian law banning gay “propaganda” from reaching minors has drawn strong international criticism and calls for boycott of the Sochi Games from gay activists and others.

Russian law also bans any unsanctioned protests and violators may face fines or prison sentences.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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