Russian police on Saturday held around half a dozen activists for attempting to stage an unauthorised gay pride rally in central Moscow, AFP journalists witnessed.
Police officers detained the activists - some of whom arrived on a quad bike waving a rainbow flag - and loaded them into waiting vans as around 30 nationalist counter-demonstrators in camouflage clothing and football fans hurled eggs at the activists and attacked them.
Several religious counter-demonstrators were also detained by police as a large crowd of Russian and international journalists looked on. "Arrested and beaten at 10th Moscow Pride. We are arrested! They probably broke my left hand finger," leading gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev wrote on Twitter, posting a photo of himself in detention.
"The most brutal arrest at Moscow Pride ever!" At least 16 people were detained at the event, radio Echo of Moscow quoted police as saying. Gay rights activists insisted on holding the event on Saturday outside the Moscow mayor's office on the main Tverskaya street despite a court in the city banning it.
The religious activists who gathered to stop the event told AFP that they were there to assist the police in imposing the court ban.
"We found out that today the LGBT community was planning to hold an unsanctioned rally and we wanted to help the law enforcement agencies stop it," said Dmitry Enteo, head of the nationalist "God's Will" group.
"These are heinous anti-Christian values. We don't want the Dead Sea to wipe away our beautiful city as it did to the ancient town of Sodom," Enteo, who was himself later detained, told AFP.
Others said that they would never allow any gay rights events to take place in Russia. "There won't be any parade because the football fans here won't allow it," Sasha, a fan of CSKA football club told AFP. Gays in Russia face regular harassment and requests to hold pride parades have been consistently rejected by authorities in the capital.
In 2013, President Vladimir Putin approved legislation banning the dissemination of "gay propaganda" among minors. The law has been widely condemned in the West as stoking intolerance.
Human Rights Watch last December sounded the alarm over a rising number of homophobic attacks in Russia, saying that the ban on "gay propaganda" effectively legalised discrimination. Russia decriminalised homosexuality in 1993 and only in 1999 stopped classifying it as a mental illness.