Islam Abdullabeckov and his boyfriend Felix Glyukman were in their Moscow apartment Sunday afternoon when they saw reports of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando. They were shocked and saddened.
The next day, the young couple went to the American embassy in Moscow with a candle and a sign that said “LOVE WINS.”
The instant they laid the sign down on the pavement, however, a policeman scooped it up.
Then they were arrested.
Police accused them of holding an unauthorized demonstration, a charge that can bring serious fines and even imprisonment in Russia.
“We weren’t going to hold a political” protest, Abdullabeckov told The Washington Post on Wednesday morning via Facebook messages. “We just wanted to put a poster and light candles.”
He said he and Glyukman were taken to a police station and questioned for three hours before being released. If convicted, they each face up to 10 days in prison or a fine of 60,000 rubles ($900), he said.
Their arrests are a stark reminder that, even as the world comes together to mourn the Orlando massacre victims, LGBT rights are also under everyday threat in countries across the globe.
“Homophobia is the official policy of the Putin state,” Abdullabeckov said.
Although homosexuality is not illegal in Russia, gay men and women face broad discrimination. In 2013, the country passed a controversial law that banned “gay propaganda,” public speech or demonstrations equating gay lifestyles to straight ones, saying it may influence children.