MOSCOW Russian police detained five activists in central Moscow on Thursday as they tried to take a petition to prosecutors to call for an official investigation into the alleged torture and killing of gay people in Chechnya.
Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported last month that authorities in the majority Muslim republic of Chechnya had rounded up over 100 gay men or men suspected of being gay and tortured them. At least three of the men had been killed, the newspaper reported.
Chechen authorities denied the report. President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in April that the Kremlin was following the treatment of gay people in Chechnya closely but that reports about gay men being tortured there could not be regarded as reliable.
Police detained the activists on Thursday as they walked along Moscow's Tverskaya Street holding mostly empty boxes with the words "Justice for the Chechen 100" written on them.
The boxes were meant to symbolise the almost 400,000 people who had signed the petition on the website change.org to investigate Novaya Gazeta's findings.
The activists also carried a USB stick with signatures in support of the petition.
Police said the activists' actions amounted to an unsanctioned protest, put them in a police van and drove away.
When asked about the alleged treatment of gay people in Chechnya, United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric cited calls by U.N. special rapporteurs for the release of men detained in the republic for the perception they may be gay and for Russian authorities to condemn all homophobic statements.
"It's clear from the Secretary-General's point of view that no one should be persecuted for perceived reasons of sexual orientation or who they may love," Dujarric told reporters.
(Reporting by Alexander Winning, additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Christian Lowe and Andrew Hay)