British activist Peter Tatchell has been detained outside the Kremlin while staging a protest against persecution of gay people in Russia.
Mr Tatchell, a veteran human rights campaigner, held up a sign accusing Vladimir Putin of failing to act against the torture of LGBT people in Russia’s Chechnya republic.
Police officers quickly approached him and then put him in a waiting squad car. His Twitter account later said he had been detained and taken to a nearby police station.
The World Cup was due to kick off in Russia on Thursday with a match between the hosts and Saudi Arabia.
Mr Tatchell wrote in a column in the Guardian on Wednesday that he had come to Russia to protest persecution and violence against LGBT people, which has been tacitly condoned by a 2013 law against homosexual propaganda.
He was called a Russophobe in the country’s largest newspaper earlier this year.
Mr Tatchell said he had been arrested twice during previous trips to Russia and beaten by neo-Nazis outside Moscow city hall in 2007.
The local World Cup organising committee promised last week that “all visitors to Russia in 2018 — regardless of race, gender, religion, ability or sexual orientation — can expect a warm welcome”.
At the same time, the authorities have also been staging a security crackdown that has swept in not only terrorism suspects and football hooligans but also critics of Mr Putin. Protests including solo pickets have been banned for the duration of the event.
It also isn’t clear that police can stop minority fans from falling victim to discrimination that has grown increasingly widespread.
Di Cunningham, who heads an alliance of LGBT fan groups in the UK, received threatening emails after announcing plans to come to the World Cup. One contained a picture of a switchblade and said she could be knifed.
Last year, at least five men died after being detained in a witch hunt against gay men in Chechnya, a Muslim republic where leader Ramzan Kadyrov has been accused of extrajudicial killings and torture.
On Wednesday night, Moscow police evacuated two buildings in connection with a play being shown about Oyub Titiyev, an activist in Chechnya for the respected human rights organisation Memorial, claiming they had received bomb threats.
Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko was sentenced to 12 years in prison this month on spying charges, and imprisoned Crimean director Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike for a month demanding the release of political prisoners.
On Thursday, Alexander Shestun, the head of a district outside Moscow who backed widespread protests against overflowing landfills this year, was charged with exceeding his authority. He previously published recordings of what he said were officials in the presidential administration and the KGB’s successor agency threatening him.