Sir Ian McKellen joins Russian embassy protest over Chechnya gay men ‘purge’
The actor was among scores of people outside the embassy near Kensington Gardens on Friday to demand that Russia takes decisive action.
Sir Ian McKellen said it was a point of deep “principle” as he joined hundreds of protesters outside the Russian embassy in London voicing their anger against a “purge” of gay men in Chechnya.
The actor was among scores of people outside the embassy near Kensington Gardens on Friday to demand that Russia takes decisive action against those responsible for a brutal persecution of gay men earlier this year.
In April reports emerged of gay people being abducted, tortured and even killed in an anti-gay “purge” in the southern Russian federal republic. Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that about 100 gay men were rounded up, tortured and killed by police, with others held in detention centres.
Despite international condemnation, Chechen and Russian authorities initially denied the accusations, Amnesty International said, with a Chechen spokesman denying that LGBTI people even exist in the region.
But defiant protesters made their anger known outside the Russian embassy in Kensington to tell ambassador Alexander Yakovenko “we exist”. Wearing black T-shirts, hundreds of people waved giant rainbow LGBTI rights banners and carried placards with the simple message “love is a human right”.
Addressing the protest, Sir Ian – one of the founders of LGBTI rights group Stonewall, which organised the demonstration with Amnesty – told fellow campaigners: “I’m not usually in favour of commenting or interfering on the internal affairs of another country, even when it’s as close to us as Chechnya is, but the point is that this is a matter of principle.
“Our principles are shared across borders, and the plight of the gay men in Chechnya is the plight of gay men and women throughout Russia.”
Reading a message from the Russian LGBT network to the crowd, he said: “Right now, we need you to demand justice, we need you to tell your governments to take action, we need you to accept refugees, we need you to call for a transparent and just investigation that is going to hold those responsible to account.”
The protest was one of 27 held at Russian embassies around the world to put pressure on authorities to act and protect LGBTI communities. A petition bearing 177,000 names was taken to the London embassy – but Amnesty said staff at the building refused to take it, despite being told about it in advance.
After the protest, Sir Ian kissed fellow Stonewall founder Lord Michael Cashman on the cheek as they laid rainbow roses on a rainbow flag – the symbol of the LGBT movement – outside the embassy. Speaking to the Press Association, Sir Ian, who has just returned from a visit to Russia to meet LGBT people there, said Russia had a “moral responsibility” to intervene in Chechnya.
He said: “It has become absolutely clear now, there is no doubt these atrocities are happening. This is more than an internal affair, this is a principle – that gay people should be treated equally with the rest of society.”
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