ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russian police detained at least 17 gay rights demonstrators during May Day celebrations in St Petersburg on Tuesday, a rights group said.
The detentions follow the adoption of a law by the city authorities which imposes fines for spreading gay “propaganda” among minors, which European diplomats have said lacks clarity and allows too much room for interpretation by police.
Russian lawmakers are considering similar legislation nationwide.
Svetlana Barsukova, a member of St Petersburg-based homosexual rights group “Coming Out”, said various groups of gay rights activists had been detained in different parts of the city after trying to unfurl rainbow flags.
“(Activists) began to wave flags and (police) detained them,” she said.
Olga Lenkova, a spokeswoman for Coming Out, said the 17 were being charged with not cooperating with police.
U.S. pop star Madonna, who is due to perform in St Petersburg in August, has said she will use her tour to speak out against what homosexual groups have called increasing intolerance towards the expression of homosexuality.
May Day parades in Russia are used by various activist groups as a platform to demonstrate their cause.
Homosexuality, punishable with jail terms in the Soviet Union, was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, but anti-gay prejudice runs deep and much of the homosexual community remains largely underground.
The Russian Orthodox Church, whose influence has grown since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, speaks out against homosexuality and gay rights rallies have often ended in arrests.
Reporting By Liza Dobkina, Writing by Thomas Grove