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Dozens arrested as "illegal" St. Petersburg Pride turns violent

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – All but the leader of the St. Petersburg Gay Pride event today has been released by police, according to Russian LGBT activist Nikolai Alekseev.

Dozens of people were arrested at the rally at Marsovo Pole (Field of Mars), including the organizer Yury Gavrikov. Alekseev, perhaps the most visible LGBT leader in Russia, updated concerned activists from around the world via his Facebook page.

Alekseev said Gavrikov would likely be released on Sunday.

Although Marsovo Pole is a park designated to promote free speech and does not require the approval of authorities for gatherings, a city official told the state-run Itar-TASS news agency that the city had banned the rally nonetheless.

Russian lawmakers have passed a new bill, which President Putin has not yet signed into law, that makes it a crime for dispensing “gay propaganda” to minors in any form, whether written or verbal, on the Internet or via traditional media outlets. Fines are expensive. Although the bill has been universally condemned by western leaders and human-rights activists worldwide, Russia has grown increasingly anti-gay, led by the Russian Orthodox Church and supported by nationalists, skinheads and other homophobic groups.

Indeed, Russian nationalists, skinheads and the faithful flocked to the park to counter the gay pride supporters, chanting slogans, shouting homophobic slurs and pelting the participants with eggs and rocks.

A video posted by St. Petersburg Pride shows police roughing up participants, some of whom were bloodied and bruised. Demotix, the network for freelance photojournalists, posted photographs that document the violence against the gay rights supporters. And Alekseev posted a photograph of Daniil Grachev, held in a choke-hold by a riot-clad police officer, flashing a peace sign while holding a rainbow flag and wearing a black T-shirt with a pink triangle on it. “Welcome my hero of St. Petersburg Gay Pride today! Danill Grachev! And he is … Straight!!!” Alekseev wrote.

The Associated Press and Reuters were among the global media sources covering the event.