Five activists were arrested in Moscow Thursday morning while attempting to deliver a petition demanding Russian authorities investigate the kidnapping and torture of gay men in Chechnya.
Several dozen men have been detained and tortured by authorities in Chechnya in the past few months, according to reports by the Russian independent news outlet Novaya Gazeta. Chechnya is a semi-autonomous region inside Russia, and its leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, responded to the reports by saying "we have never had gay men" in the republic.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he'd order federal authorities to assist in an investigation after being pressed on the issue by German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this month, but there is concern whether this investigation will be allowed to do its work.
The petition drive was organized by a trio of Russia LGBT organizations in partnership with US-based online activist platforms All Out, Avaaz, and Change.org. The five activists were delivering 2 million signatures to Russia's prosecutor general, the head of the agency that oversees federal investigations, when they were detained by the Moscow police. The Russia LGBT Network issued a statement saying they were arrested under a law prohibiting unauthorized public gatherings.
Two of those detained were released a few hours after being taken into custody, All Out's Pamela Adie told BuzzFeed News. One of those still being held is an Italian citizen who works for All Out, Yuri Guiana. The other activists being detained are both Russian citizens.
The petition was not delivered and the signatures were also taken by the police, Adie said.