September 17, 2010
NEW CONCERNS FOR SAFETY OF NIKOLAI ALEXEYEV
UPDATE: NIKOLAI SURFACES, SAYS "I WAS NOT IN MINSK, I DID NOT SEND ANY SMS" --READ THE UK GAY NEWS REPORT OF HIS FIRST TELEPHONE COMMUNICATION AT
A dispatch published a few hours ago by Interfax Belarus, the Belarussian branch of the Russian-based news agency, raises real questions about whether leading Russian gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev -- who was arrested Wednesday night, disappeared from view for two days while Russian authorities denied having him in custody, than resurfaced in Minsk in Belarus, where he'd been deported -- is in fact truly free of his movements and speech.
The Interfax Belarus dispatch claims that Nikolai has asked for "political asylum" in Belarus and is withdrawing his case before the European Court of Human Rights challenging the ban on Moscow Gay Pride -- a case which was set to be decided in the next weeks. We know from earlier text messages received by Nikolai's boyfriend and Moscow associates that the goal of Nikolai's arrest and of the intense pressure, quite possibly physical, put on him while he was in detention was designed to get him to withdraw the case before the ECHR.
This new Interfax dispatch from today is highly suspect -- knowing Nikolai, it is inconceivable to me that Nikolai would request political asylum in Belarus, a homophobic dictatorship ruled since 1994 by Alexander Lukashenko, who is "elected" in sham elections described by the OECD as such. This smells a lot like a manipulation of some sort by the FSB (Russia's successor to the KGB, of which you'll remember Vladimir Putin was a top officer).
Furthermore, nobody has actually spoken to Nikolai by telephone, including his boyfriend--only text messages have been received purporting to be from him, but they could have been written by anybody.
UPDATE: My friend Andy Harley of UK Gay News, with whom I've been cooperatively working this story, now reports that none of the gay activists in Minsk have heard from Nikolai, which, if he is truly at liberty, is quite surprising--Nikolai knows them well personally, having co-organized Slavic Pride with them and visted Minsk previously on several occasions.
I am once again very concerned about Nikolai's safety, all the moreso as efforts to reach his boyfriend by telephone today have been unavailing so far. We will try to have more and accurate news as soon as possible (thanks to Andy Harley of UK Gay News for the tip about the Interfax article today -- the direct link to the article in Belarusian is http://www.interfax.by/news/belarus/79193 ... and the link for a Google translation to English is http://translate.google.co.uk/translate?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.interfax.by%2Fnews%2Fbelarus%2F79193&sl=be&tl=en&hl=&ie=UTF-8
WHAT THIS MEANS is that worldwide continued expressions of concerns to Russia's foreign ministry and embassies by governments, organizations and especially by journalists must not let up -- only if Putin and his agents, and indeed the Lukashenko dictatorship in Belarus, know the whole world is watching can we help Nikolai in his hour of travail. There is the serious possibility that Nikolai is today the victim of collusion between Lukashenko's political police and Putin's.
For background on the reasons for Nikolai's arrest last Wednesday at Moscow Airport, see this article retransmitted from gayrussia.ru (the website, founded by Nikolai, was simultaneously attacked by hackers, presumably from Putin's government, the day after Nikolai's arrest and is not available or updateable) by UK Gay News: http://ukgaynews.org.uk/Archive/10/Sep/1601.htm
-- Doug Ireland, International Affairs Editor
Gay City News (New York City)