UPDATE: (4pm, Sept 16): It appears that Russian gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev, arrested last night at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport, has been released from Russian police custody and expelled from the country. He is now apparently in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Russian wire service Interfax reported earlier today that Alexeyev had sent them a second text message.
"At the moment I am in Minsk," the message allegedly said. "I was squeezed out to here."
Alexeyev told Interfax that he had been taken from Domodedovo to "some small-town police station," interrogated and made to sign a paper saying he would retract a case currently before the European Court of Human Rights on Muscovites' right to hold Pride parades.
"They were aggressive with me and threatened that they would tell the Swiss authorities bad things about me so I wouldn't leave," he said in a Russian-language statement to gaybelarus.by, the Minsk Pride website.
He said he still plans to attend a protest in Moscow against reactionary anti-Pride mayor Yury Luzhkov on Sept 21.
"It is a matter of principle, and I will do everything to be there," he told Interfax.
"It's totally possible that his detention was connected with the carrying out of the picket in favour of the resignation of homophobic Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov," activist Nikolai Baev told gaybelarus.
Alexeyev's husband received a message from Alexeyev this morning saying, "I can't say much now but pressure was huge, I am not in Moscow, relatively free now."
Alexeyev's husband, whose name is being withheld, said he received the message from an untraceable phone Alexeyev normally only uses to organize Pride events.
"At least we know he's not being detained anymore," his husband said. "But I can't contact him because it is a foreign number that he uses in Russia just to send messages during Pride, and no one knows the number, to avoid getting the calls tapped."
Minsk is about 600 km south of Moscow. The Belarussian government is considered one of the most repressive in Europe, but Pride events there have been relatively successful.
However, the messages are unsigned and there is some speculation Alexeyev did not write them.
Queer organizations across Europe and North America are calling for activists to put pressure on queer and allied politicians to agitate for Alexeyev's release. Marriage Equality USA has mobilized a group of activists to demonstrate at the Russian consulate in San Francisco, and Volker Beck, an openly gay member of the German Bundestag, has also become involved.
"I think we need to continue to send letters to the Russian authorities and copy our local authorities and ask them to make public statements so that Russia knows the world is watching," Vancouver Pride organizer Ken Coolen said.
UPDATE (1pm, Sept 16): Russian gay activists have forwarded a text message, allegedly from Nikolai Alexeyev on Sept 15. It reads, "I can't say much now but pressure was huge, I am not in Moscow, relatively free now." It allegedly was sent from a cellphone Alexeyev uses during demonstrations, rather than from his regular cell.
Meanwhile, activists in the US are already swinging into action, demanding answers about his disappearance.
"This is terrifying," Molly McKay, Marriage Equality USA media director said in a press release. "And we are going to the Russian consulate to get answers."
RUBY PRATKA (6pm, Sept 15): Noted Russian gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev was arrested Wednesday night at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport before he was able to board a planned flight to Geneva, his partner says. Alexeyev's partner, who did not want his name used, says he received a text message from Alexeyev on Wednesday night that said, "I am in detention."
Russian Pride website GayRussia reported that Alexeyev was arrested after going through passport control at the airport and had time to call a friend and Russian news agency Interfax. He told Russian media he did not know the reason for his arrest. GayRussia reported that three of its activists went to Domodedovo to try to find Alexeyev and were told by airport police that he was no longer in their custody and might be in the custody of the Federal Security Service (FSB).
Alexeyev's husband says he has tried to phone the activist several times with no response. It is now about 2am in Moscow.
"I doubt we will hear anything until tomorrow morning," he says. He added that Alexeyev had not been allowed to call his lawyer.
"No one knows the reason why he has been arrested," his husband said.
GayRussia reported that Moscow police told an activist that Alexeyev "was not registered in our database," and the FSB "denied to comment."
This summer, Xtra chatted with Alexeyev
. Here's some of what he had to say:
We can go and march tomorrow with balloons and rainbow flags without
asking for permission in the streets. We will not be arrested. But
there would be no point in doing that. We can register our NGOs by
hiding that their aim is to fight for LGBT rights. But again there is
no point. We cannot accept that the society wants to keep us in the
closet. The authorities have to respect our rights, and they have to recognize
that we have the right to march as LGBT people and that we have the
right to register an openly gay NGO.
Photo courtesy of Nikolai Alexeyev (Yuri Gavrikov photo)