- The Washington Times - Monday, May 2, 2016

Russian gay-rights activists were arrested Sunday for demonstrating during a May Day parade in St. Petersburg, while a neo-Nazi group reportedly participated in the event without incident.

About 20 members of St. Petersburg’s LGBT community were detained during Sunday’s march after they unfurled a rainbow flag on the city’s main thoroughfare, reported FlashNord, a Russian news agency headquartered in the country’s former capital. 

Although various trade unions and political parties were authorized to participate during Sunday’s event, authorities in St. Petersburg decided two days before the march to ban representatives of the city’s LGBT community from taking part, reported Meduza, an English-language news site that covers Russian affairs.

“For the first time in the history of the movement in Russia, [representatives from the LGBT community] will miss out on the biggest street event of the year,” LGBT organizers wrote on VKontakte, a Russian social networking site.

Two groups that were authorized to march — Free Trade Unions and Green Activists — ultimately told gay rights activists that they could join their ranks during Sunday’s parade as long as no rainbow flags or LGBT banners were used, organizers wrote on VKontakte. Fontanka, an online newspaper based in Russia, reported that the activists agreed, but eventually unfurled rainbow flags and were promptly arrested.

Those arrested will likely face charges for violating a Russian law prohibiting unsanctioned gatherings, meetings, demonstrations, marches or rallies. According to Fontanka, those persons face potential penalties of up to $300 USD and 40 hours of community service.

While gay-rights activists were prohibited from demonstrating, St. Petersburg officials had no issue allowing Slavic Power Northwest, a local neo-Nazi group, from taking part in the march. According to Russian media, members of that group participated in the event under the slogan “For the unity of the Slavs and the White race.”

“In Putin’s Russia, LGBT activists are arrested on the 1st of May, neo-Nazis are allowed to march,” tweeted Anton Shekhovtsov, a visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences, an Austrian-based think tank.

About 600 demonstrators marched with LGBT groups during last year’s event, and organizers expected more than 1,000 at Sunday’s parade before their application to participate was rejected by authorities, organizers with the gay-rights group Rainbow MayDay wrote on VKontakte.

According to the organizers, Russia’s internet watchdog, Roskomnadzor, blocked access to the group’s official website and VKontakte page ahead of the event.

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