Russian police detain five gay activists at rally
Police officers detain a gay rights activist at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, June 26, 2010. Russian police detained several gay rights activists apparently for holding an unsanctioned rally. Two dozens activists unfurled banners and chanted "Homophobia the shame of the country" and "Marriage rights without compromises" before police moved in seizing six people, who offered little resistance.
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, June 26 (Reuters) - Russian police detained five gay activists on Saturday during a rally at St. Petersburg's Hermitage museum, a police spokesman said.
About two dozen gay and lesbian activists gathered in the tourist-packed courtyard of one of the world's most famous museums, founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great, carrying banners and chanting "Homophobia is the country's shame."
One of the organisers, Maria Efremenkova, said the Russian government did nothing to protect gays. "You do not notice us and (you) violate our rights and freedom," she said.
Gay activists have been trying for years to get permits for rallying, but to no avail. The organisers of the rally in St. Petersburg were refused five locations, they said.
Homosexuality was punishable with jail terms in the Soviet Union and though Russia decriminalised homosexuality in 1993, intolerance remains very widespread. Polls have shown more than 80 percent of Russians see homosexuality as immoral.
Although the rally was not publically announced, a small group of ultra-right activists came to the square attempting to attack the protesters, local media reported, adding that between four and five of them were detained.
"The city and the country refuse to recognise us as a normal, full-fledged citizens," Efremenkova told Reuters by phone from the police station. "That's the reason why we came today to the Palace Square."
In May, gay and lesbians were able to hold their first protest in Moscow not to be broken up by riot police after eluding security services in hours long game of cat and mouse.