Russia: Gay Activists Strip-Searched at Pulkovo

Submitted by ILGA-Europe

Reposted from The St Petersburg Times:

A leading local LGBT activist who was arrested, strip-searched and held in a police precinct and court for over 24 hours after the police detained him and two other men filming an interview inside the Pulkovo 1 airport terminal, was acquitted by a local court late last Friday due to lack of evidence.

Moscow photographer Mitya Aleshkovsky had traveled to St. Petersburg with Moscow LGBT activist Sergei Gubanov for one day in a failed attempt to interview British actor Stephen Fry, who was briefly in the city filming a BBC documentary about LGBT people across the globe. Aleshkovsky himself was interviewed by Yury Gavrikov, the chair of the local Ravnopraviye (Equality) LBGT rights organization and an organizer of the annual St. Petersburg Gay Pride event. During the interview, at about 8:15 p.m. Thursday, the three were approached by a police officer, who ordered them to switch off their video camera, Gavrikov said.

Gavrikov, who was recording an interview with Aleshkovsky about the Moscow photographer’s own photo project portraying gay men and lesbians at their places of work, said that the policeman argued that shooting videos in the airport was forbidden, because Pulkovo 1 was a “high-security” location.

When the three reasoned that the airport’s waiting room was a public space and that it was legal to take photographs and video recordings there, the officer called for reinforcements, who then took the men into the airport’s police office, strip-searched them and put them into holding cells until the morning.

“They constantly repeated that it was a high-security location in a high-security city, and we were requested to switch off the camera and go with them, making it sound as if we were on some military base, but as we understood, we were in a public space, in the airport waiting room,” Gavrikov said.

He said he later found out that the airport was on alert because of the impending arrival of President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko.

According to Gavrikov, the strip searches of the three were undertaken in order to find a memory card from the video camera, which was on during the exchange with the police, although the officers claimed they were looking for possible weapons and illegal drugs.

He said the officers checked and reformatted his memory cards and “stole” the one on which the police’s actions were recorded.

At 7 a.m. Friday the police charged the detained with “failure to obey a police officer’s lawful orders,” an offence punishable by 15 days in jail. Police reports also said the men used foul language, pushed the officers and humiliated them. The men were taken to the Moskovsky District Court in two police vehicles at 2 p.m.

However, in a three-hour hearing Friday evening, Judge Yeva Gyunter acquitted Gavrikov in a ruling which came as a striking exception to Russian legal practice, where judges tend to back the police and ignore the defense.

“The police reports were identical, with the same punctuation mistakes. Apparently they copied them from each other,” Gavrikov said. “They said we verbally insulted and pushed them, while I was said to be poking the microphone of my camera into the face of one of the officers, thus insulting his honor and dignity while he was on duty.”

He said the judge dismissed the disobedience charges, saying that the officers failed to provide sufficient evidence.

“She also listed many violations during the detention, the interrogations and in the police reports,” Gavrikov said. “Coupled with the police officers’ testimonies and my own remarks, these violations led to the ruling that I was completely innocent.”

The cases of Aleshkovky, who missed his flight to Moscow on Thursday, and Gubanov were sent to their respective district courts in Moscow at their request.

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