Two Russian gay men say they were arrested and detained after trying to leave a tribute to the victims of the Orlando shootings outside the U.S. embassy in Moscow.
Islam Abdullabeckov, a 21-year-old social media editor for business newspaper RBK, and his boyfriend, 24-year-old Felix Glyukman, had joined other mourners outside the embassy after hearing about the June 12 attack, which claimed the lives of 49 patrons of a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Abdullabeckov and Glyukman said police stopped them before they could place flowers and a sign that reads "Love wins - Stay with Orlando" next to hundreds of other bouquets and sympathy notes, according to Agence France Press.
"The police arrested us straight away and put us in their car for so-called 'unauthorized action'," Abdullabeckov told the French news agency. "We only wanted to express our condolences for the murder of these people and we had not at all planned any kind of political act."
Abdullabeckov and Glyukman could be fined or serve up to 10 days in jail, according to a report by iNews.co.uk. Police accused the couple of “violating the law on political events in the street," Abdullabeckov said.
"We disagree," he told the British news site.
The report did not include comment from Russian officials.
Russia, considered one of the world's most homophobic countries, has banned pro-gay demonstrations. Earlier in 2016, Russian lawmakers mulled a bill that would make it illegal for gay couples to engage in public displays of affection, such as kissing or holding hands, Human Rights Watch said. Russian politicians sought to ban “the public expression of non-traditional sexual relations, manifested in a public demonstration of personal perverted sexual preferences in public places.”
Under the bill, which has not been passed, violators of the law could face additional penalties -- including fines and jail time -- for engaging in affectionate displays "on territories and in institutions, providing educational, cultural or youth services."
Homosexuality was a criminal offense in the country until 1993, AFP notes, and was considered a mental illness by Russian medical professionals until 1999.