Police arrested a group of around 10 LGBT activists in Moscow’s Red Square on Friday evening as they sang the Russian national anthem as the Olympic opening ceremonies began while holding a rainbow flag. The detentions follow the arrest of four LGBT activists earlier in the day in St. Petersburg for taking photographs while holding a banner opposing discrimination during the Olympics.
This video captured the police breaking up the group in Red Square before taking them to the Kitai-Gorod police station:
The website OVDinfo.org, which tracks detentions in Russia, reported that the Russians in detention include Elena Kostyuchenko, Anna Anenkova Gleb Warrior, Lynne Reid, Olga Mazurova, Knicks Nemeni Tarja Polyakova, and Daria Starshinina.
The group included two Swedish activists, who were released about an hour after they were detained. One of the Swedes, Ulrika Westerlund of the LGBT organization RFSL, emailed to BuzzFeed a transcript of a text message exchange she had with Russian activists still in detention that reported at least two of the group had been beaten and threatened with sexual abuse.
The last of these messages arrived 11:30 p.m. Moscow time, or 2:30 p.m. in New York.
Text message from me: We didn’t sign anything. Are you all still there?
From them: Yes, in cage. They beated [sic] two of us
Me: oh no, who? What can we do? Can you keep reporting? Are all of you in the same cage?
Them: Two queers. Before that they took us upstairs and said that we have to “suck their cocks” and that we have to be burned. When we said that we gonna complain. So they bring us back to cage. So we dont let them close it without paper, pen and their names. So they beat two of us and then used cuffs
Them: Yes we are together. Now we are singing
New text from them: They beated [sic] our people again - cause we asked to let our public defender come to us. They didnt give us any docs
OVDinfo.org also provided this account of events inside the police station:
OVD-Info spoke to the arrested [activists] in Kitai-Gorod police station, they are all currently in a cage, and two of them… are handcuffed to it. [Police] kicked them into the cage and twisted their arms. At some point Elena Kostyuchenko and Reida Lin were taken upstairs, where two men in civilian clothes insulted them and offered to provide sexual services, all under the pretense of filling out some sort of form, the arrested did not manage to learn their names and they were not allowed to write a complaint. As yet no charges have been filed against the arrested [activists] and it is not clear what will happen to them.
Update - Feb. 7, 4:45 P.M., EST
The eight Russians were released at around 12:30 Moscow time, protest organizers Elena Kostyuchenko, told BuzzFeed by phone after her release. None were seriously injured, though she reported they police officers almost broke two of the protestors’ arms by closing the door of the cage, some were kicked by police officers while handcuffed to the cage, and one protestor was momentarily choked by a police officer placing his arm across his throat. She was not formally charged, she said, because she insisted on complaining about the officers’ conduct before signing a charge sheet.
Like the activists arrested in St. Petersburg earlier on Friday, Kostyuchenko believes police knew about the protest in advance by tapping her phone, and were waiting for them. She said that she changed the location 30 minutes before the protest, and only communicated the new location through phone calls and text messages, which she believes were intercepted.
“I think they hear my phone and read my text messages,” she said. “I can’t explain it any way.”
CORRECTION: The original headline on this story suggested the video contained footage of activists being beaten. The video does not clearly show police violence.