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Russia's leading gay rights activist has been abducted from a Moscow airport and deposited in neighboring Belarus.
"All we know is that he is in Minsk. Where he is exactly, why he's there — we don't know. Now, all communication has stopped," his friend Alexei Davydov, a member of the opposition Solidarity group, told me a few minutes ago.
Nikolai Alekseyev, one of Russia's few gay activists and the lead organizer of its banned gay parades, was in Domodedovo Airport Wednesday night, trying to board a SwissAir flight to Geneva. He'd registered, checked his bags and was making his way through passport control, when several members of airport security took him aside, Davydov said. Later, they called in the police.
The next time Davydov heard from his friend he said he had been driven 373 miles outside Moscow.
"He said they were pressuring him to withdraw his complaints from the European Court of Human Rights," Davydov said. "They were asking him to sign something."
This afternoon, he received an SMS from Alekseyev saying he was in Minsk. "Who has taken him, we don't know," Davydov said.
Gays are notoriously mistreated in Russia, where homophobia runs rampant and is often sanctioned by authorities. Moscow's embattled mayor, Yury Luzhkov, has repeatedly denounced gay parades as "satanic" and refused to give permission for them to take place.
In August, gay rights activists filed suit in the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights against Oleg Mitvol, a local city official who once held a high-powered position in the federal government.
No one knows what will happen next — or why Alekseyev was taken to Belarus in the first place, a country with which Russia has increasingly sour ties.
Alekseyev's luggage remains in Domodedovo Airport, and he's afraid police will deposit contraband or drugs in an effort to find an excuse to arrest him, Davydov said.
Russia's gay rights community had scheduled a (banned) pride parade in a few days.