Has Russian gay activist Nikolai Alekseev actually been released? And is he really in Minsk? These are questions being asked by Belarusian gay activists in Minsk this afternoon – and by UK Gay News.
It is true that the most recent messages that Mr. Alekseev has sent to his partner today have said that he is free and is fine. But these messages were sent by SMS. Was it Mr. Alekseev who sent them? And if it was him, was he under any sort of pressure?
The first hint that all might not be well came late this morning when a reliable gay activist in Minsk alerted this Website that Interfax Belarus had posted an article today saying that Mr. Alekseev had applied for political asylum in Belarus – and that “[i]n connection with the pressure on me, I decided to withdraw the complaints to the European Court about the bans on gay prides in 2006, 2007 and 2008 by the Moscow authorities." [This Interfax Belarus report can be read HERE] This, the gay community in Minsk suggest, is so out of character. Additionally, Mr. Alekseev has not been seen in Minsk by activists, nor has he made any contact with anyone. It is not as though Mr. Alekseev does not know anyone in Minsk. He does – he helped to organise Slavic Pride in the Belarusian capital this year, and sevarl were in Moscow for Gay Pride.
“The situation that has evolved around the disappearance of Nikolai Alekseev is very strange,” a leading gay activist told UK Gay News this afternoon. “Reliable information about where he is, if he is free, and whether or not Nikolai himself sends SMS messages that are mentioned in the media is not known. “At the same time, the media has played in every possible way on this incident and not tried to understand what is written and what happening. "At the moment, I personally have great concern about the safety of Nikolai because in two days no one has had a single phone call, neither his friends nor the media. “SMS messages can be sent by anyone, not just Nikolai,” he pointed out.
Until Mr. Alekseev actually contacts someone by “voice” telephone and says where he is – and that he is a free many, concerns will remain. But at the present time, there are serious doubts.
At the end of the day, the Belarus authorities are a law unto to themselves. Human rights are mainly ignored. And to a lesser extent, it is the same in Russia. And the authorities in both countries indeed have a lot to answer for. When Mr. Alekseev is reported as saying that he was pressured into withdrawing his complaints to the European Court of Human Rights, then the justices in Strasbourg may well have something to say on the matter and a question or two. The gay activists in Minsk are right to be concerned. As veteran openly gay New York–based journalist Doug Ireland says: “Knowing Nikolai, it is inconceivable to me that he would request political asylum in Belarus.”
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 visited Minsk previously on several occasions.
I am once again very concerned about Nikolai's safety, all the more so 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. ... and the link for a Google translation to English is here.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.
-- Doug Ireland, International Affairs Editor, Gay City News (New York City)