The Olympics don’t officially begin until tonight, February 7, but four activists have already been arrested for protesting.
The small group had been planning to display a banner quoting Principle 6, an anti-discrimination section in the official Olympic Charter. Though the published reports vary as to precisely when and where, a witness told Buzzfeed that the protestors hadn’t yet reached the bridge when they were stopped by police, so suddenly that their plans had to have been known in advance.
One activist, who asked not to be named due to fears for her safety, told Buzzfeed, “Either the phones are being listened to or maybe there are cameras all over the city; only a few people knew about this action.”
All four were aware they could be arrested for the protest, but the speed and timing of the confrontation took them by surprise.
The only activist named was Anastasia Smirnova, who is known for her work as a spokesperson and coordinator for an alliance between six of Russia’s biggest pro-LGBT organizations; the group has asked that the names of the other three remain unpublished.
In a phone interview with BuzzFeed later in the day, Smirnova said that they were released within hours, but face charges of “participation in an illegal public assembly.” A preliminary hearing is scheduled for February 8 at 1:00 PM local time, but a decision on their case is unlikely.
Smirnova admitted, “It was pretty scary” how the police apparently knew what they were up to before they had even been able to display their banner. “Probably they are tapping our phones.”
She said the severe reaction to their simple plan to take a few pictures was “definitely … a result of the [tightened]control of the Olympic Games. The police panicked because they are so ready for any kind of provocations.”
A car that belonged to the activists was towed during their arrest; police are refusing to allow its return, saying they have specific orders to keep it impounded.