As gay Muscovites were preparing for today’s officially sanctioned demonstration outside the office of Swiss Air Lines, local media interest in increasing.
Russian television companies are planning to cover the demonstration – the first protest mounted by gays in Moscow that the authorities have allowed. Official permission was granted hours after the former Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, was fired by the Russian President.
But in Switzerland, officials of Swiss Air Lines were playing down the demonstration against the company following the ‘abduction’ two weeks ago of Nikolai Alekseev, the high profile Russian gay rights activist, who was seized by unknown agents, widely thought to have been from the FSB, in the departure lounge at Moscow’ Domodedovo Airport as he was waiting to board a flight to Geneva.
Mr. Alekseev says that he had gone through security and passport control, and was on his way to a Swiss Air Lines frequent flyer lounge, when he was stopped and seized.
UK Gay News contacted the press office of Swiss Air Lines in Zurich this morning and was told that they were not dealing with inquiries about Mr. Alekseev. But they gave another telephone number of a special department that was dealing with the matter.
The airline spokesperson denied that Mr. Alekseev had gone through security and was not ‘airside’ when he was apprehended by agents, in front of the airline’s local representative, Rostislav Petrov, – a Russian.
“He had not passed through security properly,” she told UK Gay News. “That is the only information we have. We can only accept passengers who have passed through airport security, which is the responsibility of the Russian authorities.”
However, she did admit that Mr. Alekseev was “a good customer”.
Mr. Alekseev told supporters by telephone minutes after being detained two weeks ago that he had passed through security and then passport control for his exit out of Russia when he was stopped.
And in his description of events, posted in Russian, following his eventual release more than 48 hours later, Mr. Alekseev repeated that he had cleared security, even joking on how they did not want him to remove his laptop from his cabin baggage.
“I have a stamp on my boarding pass that clearly says that I pass the security check of the airport,” he told UK Gay News this morning. “I just don’t understand why they lie against the facts.
“Swiss Air Lines is handling this in a typical Swiss way. The airline is fully accountable for the misbehaviour of their local staff in Russia. They should know who they employ.
“I support the calls for boycott of this airline because this is apparently the only message that they can understand,” he added, referring to calls from across the world on the Internet for a boycott of Swiss Air Lines.
Mr. Alekseev said that he will have all the paperwork showing that he had passed though security and passport control at the demonstration and would produce it for the media.
He added that it would have been “highly unusual” that the chief of Swiss Air Lines at Domodedovo Airport,. would have been present with the unknown agents as he was going through airport security.
He was stopped after he had gone through all the formalities for passengers departing from a Moscow airport, Mr. Alekseev insisted.
“[Mr. Petrov] immediately stated in front of the security that my checked-in luggage had already been unloaded from the airplane, and. that orders had been given to the airline even before their encounter with me,” he repeated.
“Swiss Air Lines have not bother to contact me after the incident to try to find out what happened to me and start an internal investigation,” he alleged. “I am just shocked. They just took the side of the Russian authorities – they’re probably scared they loose their landing rights,” he suggested.
“It is as though a frequent traveller with the airline means nothing to them.”