Russian World Cup presents dangers for LGBT fans
THE World Cup is arguably the most globally beloved sporting event in the world - but this year, there's a dark side.
At least half the world's population is expected to tune into the competition, but in Russia, LGBT fans will be wary of joining the party.
The notoriously homophobic country has received global condemnation for its poor treatment of members of the LGBT community. Just last year, it was reported that gay concentration camps were operating in the city of Chechnya.
Since the 2018 World Cup kicked off, we've already seen a gay activist jailed and a same-sex couple hospitalised.
It's a sobering contrast to the legions of celebrating fans.
While same-sex relationships are not illegal in Russia, members of the LGBT community have long faced persecution across the country.
Last week, Russian Cossacks said they would report any gay couples seen kissing in public to the police.
"If two men are kissing each other at the World Cup, we will tip off the police, drawing their attention to it and the rest is a police matter," Oleg Barannikov, a head co-ordinator of the Cossack volunteers, told Radio Free Europe affiliate Current Time.
"To us, values mean the Orthodox faith and the family come first."
Before the first World Cup match had even kicked off, a gay French couple were hospitalised after they were brutally attacked in St Petersburg.
According to Telegram channels Operdrain and OperSlil, the pair was targeted after catching a taxi together. The main victim was found to have a cerebral contusion and open craniocerebral injury, as well as an upper jaw fracture.
The two victims had their phones and money stolen in the attack.
Two men in their 20s, named Ismet Gaidarov and Rasul Magomedov, were arrested after the attack.
But according to Anna Kirey, a queer activist from Russia who now works for Amnesty International, it's unlikely they'll face significant repercussions.
"Homophobia is not registered as a hate crime in Russia - it would be more likely charged as hooliganism," she told news.com.au.
"It's difficult to find the strength to file a complaint with the police, because police are often very homophobic."
Ms Kirey said it was notably more difficult for LGBT people in smaller towns as opposed to big cities, saying people faced "significant threats and violence" from their families, neighbourhoods and classmates if they shared their personal identities.
In 2013, the Russian government introduced a "gay propaganda law", which banned the "promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships" to children.
A study from the Russian-based Centre for Independent Social Research found that hate crimes against the LGBT community had doubled since the law came into effect.
"The climate of homophobia in Russia is definitely state-sponsored, even though the law itself is used very rarely and in very politicised cases," Ms Kirey said.
"This law has been used as a tool to create a climate for LGBTI groups to not be able to speak out or organise. The level of violence is growing. It's seen by the general public as a licence to attack members of the LGBT community. Any public organising by LGBT members is seen as public."
Last year, the world was left shocked by disturbing reports of gay men being kidnapped and tortured in Chechnya.
At least 100 gay men were allegedly rounded up in the dead of night - either taken from their beds or during raids of secretive underground gay clubs - by gangs of burly and bearded mercenaries.
They were then reportedly taken to old military or police buildings where they were allegedly detained indefinitely, beaten, electrocuted, subjected to emotional abuse and forced sexual acts.
Local news outlet Novaya Gazeta and human rights groups reported that Chechen authorities had set up concentration camps, rounded up gay and bisexual men and subjected them to physical violence.
It marked the first time since World War II and Hitler's Third Reich that homosexual men had been rounded up and kept in camps. There were reports of at least three men dying in the camps.
Melbourne-born British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was arrested on Thursday night for staging a protest in Moscow.
"I know from personal experience the hands-off approach adopted by the Kremlin," he wrote in The Guardian.
"I was badly beaten by neo-Nazis opposite City Hall in Moscow in 2007 while the police stood by and watched. As I came close to losing consciousness, I was arrested, while my main attacker was allowed to walk free.
"I have come to Russia this week because President Vladimir Putin should not be allowed to score a PR coup with the World Cup. Most LGBT people in Russia are understandably too afraid to openly protest against their persecution. They fear arrest and being attacked by extremists.
"I am afraid too, but to win freedom sometimes we have to be prepared to take risks."
Anyone who does organise or participate in a larger protest in Russia faces costly fines - fines that are so significant that people have stopped protesting.
Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said of Mr Tatchell arrest: "The response to Peter Tatchell's protest is straight out of the Russian authorities' playbook - protest in a high-profile location like Red Square, hold a placard criticising Putin or speak in support of LGBTI rights in public, and face immediate arrest by the police.
"In present-day Russia, there's no right to peacefully protest, no right to publicly stand up for LGBTI people, and certainly no chance of staging a street protest about last year's sinister gay crackdown in Chechnya.
"It's no surprise to hear that Mr Tatchell has been arrested solely for exercising his right to peaceful protest. We understand he has now been released but will stand trial for this 'offence'. This is outrageous - all charges against him should be dropped immediately.
"Peter Tatchell's arrest should not distract attention from his message. The Russian authorities should explain what steps have been taken in earnest to investigate reports of a 'gay purge' in the Chechen Republic."
Mr Tatchell is due to face court on June 26.