Winter Olympics 2014: Sochi protesters arrested over banner citing Olympic Charter's words against discrimination

Prominent LGBT activist among group censured for highlighting perceived conflict with Games’ rules

One of Russia’s leading gay activists was arrested on Friday while taking part in a protest shortly before the opening ceremony of the £30bn Winter Olympics.

Anastasia Smirnova was one of four activists detained in St Petersburg on the opening day of the Sochi Games as the group photographed a banner citing the Olympic Charter’s words against discrimination. Further arrests were later made in Moscow where 10 people were arrested, two of them believed to be Swedish.

The arrests came amid international concern at Russia’s treatment of gays, especially newly enacted laws which make gay “propaganda” among minors and offence.

Calls to boycott the Games have largely been ignored but some athletes are understood to be planning to hold up six fingers when the cameras are on them to bring attention to the Olympic Charter’s Principle 6, which describes discrimination as “incompatible with the Olympic movement”.

The four protestors arrested in St Petersburg, one of them a pregnant woman, were on Vasilyevsky Island with the banner which they planned to hang from the Belinskiy Bridge when they were arrested by police.

Ms Smirnova, who last year accused the authorities of conducting a pogrom against the lesbian, gas and transsexual communities, expressed derision at her arrest.

Writing on her Facebook page while in detention she said: “Can’t write much as phones are not permitted, and they are now calling us to sign papers. Cosmic hugs to you from our police station! PS. Detention for a photo with a banner - isn’t it an amazing way to celebrate the Opening of the Games?”

The Russian LGBT network said in a post: “The activists were making photos with a banner “Discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic Movement. Principle 6. Olympic Charter” to support the company held today all over the world.”

Ms Smirnova was later released from custody and said: “Everyone is feeling right and strong, and the support that we have is truly heartwarming.”

President Vladimir Putin defended Russia’s stance last month when he said: “We aren’t banning anything, we aren’t rounding up anyone, we have no criminal punishment for such relations unlike many other countries. We have a ban on propaganda of homosexuality and paedophilia, I want to underline that, on propaganda among minors.”

The International Olympic Committee’s decision to award the Games to Russia has been widely questioned but it has insisted it has received assurances that gays will not be subjected to discrimination.

Later Turkish special forces seized an airline passenger suspected of making a bomb threat and trying to hijack a passenger plane, while demanding to go to the Winter Olympics venue of Sochi.

They said the suspect was taken away for questioning after the Pegasus Airlines plane from the Ukrainian city of Kharkov arrived in Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport.

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