MOSCOW — Two Russian gay men said on Tuesday they had been detained by the police for trying to leave a banner outside the U.S. embassy in Moscow to commemorate the victims of the Orlando shooting.
The two men, Islam Abdullabeckov and Felix Glyukman, said they had been detained on Monday after trying to leave a handwritten banner reading "Love Wins" and that the police had accused them of breaking Russian protest laws.
"When we came to put the poster on the ground the policeman grabbed the poster and told us we must leave," Glyukman said in a video interview he posted to social media on Tuesday. "We are in shock. This is very strange and very sad."
He said they had been held for about three hours and that a charge sheet was drawn up accusing them of failing to give notice for what the police called a public event. The two men said it was nothing of the kind and in no way political.
There was no immediate confirmation of the episode from the police, but photographs of the incident clearly showed the men being led away by a policeman and then sitting inside what looked like a police car.
Russians have left flowers and notes outside the U.S. embassy in Moscow since Sunday to express their condolences over the shooting at a gay nightclub in Florida in which 49 people were killed.
Western governments and human rights activists have criticised the Russian authorities in the past for their treatment of gay people and in particular for a 2013 law banning the dissemination of "gay propaganda" among young Russians.
LGBT activists say they have struggled to get permission to hold gay pride marches and that when they have succeeded police have deliberately stood aside as ultra-nationalists have attacked participants.
Homosexuality in Russia, where the influence of the socially conservative Orthodox Church has grown in recent years, was a criminal offence until 1993 and classed as a mental illness until 1999.