Gay rights activists hold flash-mob protest in St. Petersburg

Gay rights activists gather to mark the International Day against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia in St. Petersburg, Russia, Wednesday, May 17, 2017.

Dmitri Lovetsky / AP

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- About 100 gay rights activists have held a flash-mob demonstration in the Russian city of St. Petersburg to observe International Day Against Homophobia and to call attention to claims of gay persecution and torture in Chechnya.

Authorities routinely deny LGBT activists permission to hold rallies. Unauthorized gatherings often end in arrests and attacks by thugs. But the Wednesday evening demonstration ended without arrests or trouble. 

Although homosexuality was decriminalized in post-Soviet Russia, animosity toward gay people remains strong. 

In 2015, Putin told CBS News' Charlie Rose on 60 Minutes that "the problem of sexual minorities in Russia had been deliberately exaggerated from the outside for political reasons, I believe, without any good basis."  

 "We have no persecution at all," Putin insisted. "People of non-traditional sexual orientation work, they live in peace, they get promoted, they get state awards for their achievements in science and arts or other areas. I personally have awarded them medals."  

But in April of this year, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that gay men in the republic of Chechnya had been tortured and killed by police. The claim, which Chechen authorities deny, sparked wide calls in the West for Russia to investigate.

The St. Petersburg demonstrators called on Western governments to grant asylum to Chechen gays.