A gay former Italian MP has told reporters she was arrested and detained by Russian police for staging a gay rights protest at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.
Vladimir Luxuria said she was approached by two men in plain clothes in the Olympic Park as she held up a banner with the words “Gay is OK” written on it in Russian.
She said was arrested on Sunday night, and not released until the early hours of Monday. Though officers treated her with respect during her detention, she said she was told she was not allowed to display pro-gay slogans in public.
Speaking after appearing on stage at a gay cabaret bar in Sochi, Ms Luxuria said: “I think it is important (to have) the opportunity to talk internationally about these things because otherwise these things happen in Russia and nobody knows, nobody cares.
“They think: 'Well, it's not in our country, it's far away, it's in Russia, who cares?'”
Games organisers said today that officers had no record of Ms Luxuria's detention, and a duty officer at Sochi's central police station told a reporter with the Associated Press that they had “never had an Italian national in custody”.
Sochi organizing committee spokeswoman Alexandra Kosterina said: “We've talked to police and they have told us there is no record whatsoever to any detention or arrest.”
Ms Luxuria said she had been protesting against a law signed by President Vladimir Putin last year banning the spread of “gay propaganda” among minors. Critics say it discriminates against gays and that it has fuelled violence against homosexuals.
Reports in Russia suggested that arrests at unauthorised rallies are common, and that officers are regularly so swamped with paperwork that they will detain and then release those seen as minor offenders without registering the incident.
Ms Luxuria, 48, was the first openly transgender member of any European parliament when she was elected as an Italian MP in 2006.
She is a prominent defender of gay rights, and said that she would be back out to keep making her voice heard later on Monday.
She told Reuters: “I tell you, if ... I don't have the opportunity to have a flag with 'It's OK to be gay' written on it I will shout it,” she said. “I know how to say it in Russian.”.
International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said: “We hope that the Games will not be used as a platform for demonstrations.”
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