As Sochi Olympics Open, Four Gay Activists Arrested in St. Petersburg

NBC's opening coverage doesn't avoid the various controversies


"Does Putin know how gay it looks to go around all the time with his shirt off?"

A small group of activists wanted to protest the treatment of gays under current Russian law. They hoped to unfurl a banner on a bridge Friday in St. Petersburg quoting the Olympic Charter's language against discrimination. They were, instead, detained by police. The reports seem to vary. The Associated Press reports that they were rounded up by police after unfurling the banner. However, according to BuzzFeed, police stopped the protesters while they were on their way to the bridge, indicating they already knew what they were planning somehow:

An LGBT activist who witnessed the arrests told BuzzFeed from St. Petersburg that the four protestors had stopped on their way to a bridge leading to the picturesque Vasilyevskiy Ostrov neighborhood to take some pictures when they were suddenly surrounded by police cars. The arrival of the police was so sudden that activists had no idea how they had even learned of the planned protest.

"Either the phones are being listened to or maybe there are cameras all over the city; only a few people knew about this action," said the activist, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear for her safety.

The activists involved knew there was a risk of arrest, but didn't expect a confrontation with police officers until they reached the bridge, the activist added.

I guess even Russians can still be surprised at how much the government is monitoring them.

Though the Olympics officially open tonight, a major expansion in the number of events prompted competition and coverage to begin Thursday. Observers wondered how much NBC would be willing to discuss the various controversies surrounding the Olympics. It turned out they were indeed quite willing, at least at the moment while the schedule isn't too hectic. Announcer Bob Costas brought up the anti-gay controversy almost immediately in the introduction of the evening's coverage and later brought out experts David Remnick and Vladimir Pozner to discuss the political landscape. The pair of them make the very important points that: One, Vladimir Putin cares about how the Russians evaluate the success of the Olympics, not America or Europe (terrorism is his major concern, not activism); and two, the vast majority of Russian people really, really, really don't like the gays. Watch the interview here.