Peter Tatchell in Moscow, 2018

Reuters reported from Moscow on Thursday:

Russian police briefly detained veteran British campaigner Peter Tatchell in Moscow on Thursday after he attempted to hold a one-man protest near the Kremlin in support of gay rights on the first day of the World Cup.

Olivia Blair has a good write-up in Esquire. Generally, the Russian law allows citizens to hold one-man protests (“single pickets”) without notifying or asking permission from the local authorities. However, the president may restrict protests in the Kremlin, Red Square and the Alexander Garden. But Tatchell is pictured standing near the Zhukov statue, outside both the Alexander Garden and Red Square.

It turns out that in 2017, Putin imposed new restrictions on one-man protests in all Russian cities hosting World and Confederation Cup events – by executive fiat, bypassing the legislature. A constitutionally questionable directive, but that’s what ensnared Tatchell, apparently. By ignoring it, he committed a minor violation, deceptively called “administrative” in Russian  – a misdemeanor, approximately speaking. His penalty will probably be a modest fine, unless the authorities consider him a Navalny-grade threat. Which they probably don’t, or they would have denied him a visa: it’s his sixth visit to Russia, the first dating back to more than a decade ago. In his own words:

Each time, I’ve visited in order to support LGBT+ campaigners who were attempting to hold a Pride parade and festival. On every occasion these were suppressed by the authorities, sometimes violently. I’ve been arrested twice and once been beaten almost unconscious.

See, for instance, this Telegraph report from May 2007. (An extended backward-looking parenthesis:

In 1973, he was the GLF [Gay Liberation Front] delegate to the World Youth Festival in East Berlin, smuggling thousands of gay rights leaflets into East Germany. His speech at the Youth Rights Conference was the first time anyone had publicly advocated the ideas of lesbian and gay liberation in a communist country. Later interrogated by East German security police and assaulted by communist officials, he narrowly escaped arrest after marching in Alexanderplatz with a “homosexual liberation” banner – the first gay liberation protest ever staged in the Soviet bloc.

East Germany decriminalized 18+ homosexuality in 1968; West Germany followed in 1969.)

Importantly, Tatchell is still taking risks – not as great as in 2007 or in 1973, but not zero either. In theory, the next-to-last thing the Kremlin wants during the World Cup is an ugly clash between a British activist and Moscow cops – but one can never be sure. (Tatchell turned 66 in January – he is several months Putin’s senior. The Englishman has aged remarkably better than the Russian, thanks probably to the former’s finer bone structure and general decency.) Peter Tatchell is obviously brave and consistent, and his single-mindedness – his devotion to a single cause over decades – is the source of his weakness and strength. Some of the people laughing at his stunts must be secretly envying his resolve.

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