LGBT+ and Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was in Moscow to protest the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, where he was later arrested. Mr Tatchell was holding a banner supporting gay men who have been violently targeted in a purge in Chechnya while standing next to the statue Marshal Zhukov close to the Kremlin.
Tatchell has been to Russia five times to support LGBT+ campaigners who were attempting to hold a LGBT+ Pride parade and festival: 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011. Each time, these were suppressed by the authorities, sometimes violently. He was arrested twice and beaten almost unconscious once.
Speaking from the Russian capital Mr Tatchell, who was badly beaten by neo-Nazis in Moscow in 2007 while the police stood by and watched , said, “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. I was exercising my lawful right to protest, under the Russian constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression and the right to protest in Articles 29 and 31. A one-person protest, which is what I did, requires no permission from the authorities and the police.”
“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.”, he stated.
“There can be no normal sporting relations with an abnormal regime like that of Vladimir Putin. LGBT+ people suffer state-sanctioned persecution and vigilante violence. LGBT+ Pride parades have been banned for 100 years in Moscow. Publicly advocating LGBT+ equality or giving affirmative advice to LGBT+ young people is a crime. Inspired by the campaigning and heroism of Russian LGBTs, I’m acting in solidarity with their battle for equal human rights.”
Tatchell added, “Most LGBT+ people in Russia are too afraid to openly protest against their persecution. They fear arrest and being beaten by extremists. I am here in solidarity with their freedom struggle. I salute and support them. I am not telling Russians what to do. I’m supporting Russian LGBT+ advocates and human rights defenders. They want President Putin to uphold Russia’s constitution and its international human rights obligations, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, which Russia signed and pledged to uphold.”
Getting arrested is standard for Russians who protest for LGBT+ rights or against corruption, economic injustice and Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its bombing of civilians in Syria.
Tatchell Explains His Reasoning for Protesting
“Unlike brave Russian protesters, I have the ‘protection’ of a British passport, which means I have been treated more leniently than they are. My fate was mild compared to what often happens to Russians who dare to challenge the Putin regime. I am awed by their courage. President Putin has failed to condemn and act against the homophobic witch-hunts in Chechnya, which have seen scores of LGBT+ people arrested and tortured, with some even being killed. The singer Zelim Bakaev disappeared in Chechnya in August 2017 and has never been seen since. Russia’s 2013 anti-gay law against so-called ‘homosexual propaganda’ has been used to suppress peaceful LGBT+ protests, sack LGBT+ teachers and suppress welfare organisations that support LGBT+ teenagers. Little action has been taken by the Russian government and police to crack down on far right extremists who target LGBT+ people for violent and humiliating assaults – including the instigators of the current threats to bash and stab LGBT+ football fans at the World Cup.”