Russian gay rights activists
Gay rights activists kiss as they are detained by police officers during a gay rights protest in St. Petersburg October 12, 2013. Reuters/Alexander Demianchuk

A small group of gay rights activists marching through St Petersburg, Russia, were attacked by so-called Christians on Saturday, leading to a number of arrests on both sides.

The 20 or so activists were heavily outnumbered by anti-gay demonstrators, some of whom sang hymns and recited prayers before wading in.

Although officially Russia does not discriminate against homosexuality, which has been legal in the country since 1993, recently there has been a sharp rise in homophobic attacks, many of them recorded online. There have been cases where gay men have been "lured" into meeting people and then attacked. A number of murders are also suspected to have been homophobic in nature.

Recent murders with a suspected anti-gay motive include those of a 39-year-old man in a village in Kamchatka peninsula and a 23-year-old man tortured and killed in Volgograd.

One homophobic group, "Occupy-Pedofilyay", has turned to "outing" and humiliating young people it suspects of being gay and posting sinister videos online. Supposedly aimed at catching paedophiles, the group now seems to be terrorising young people aged 12-19 itself.

Nikolai Alexeyev, the head of gay rights group Gay Russia, said attacks against homosexuals are widespread but are almost never investigated as hate crimes:

"Homophobic hysteria is being increasingly promoted in Russia," he told AFP.

A number of politicians have also been accused of making derogatory remarks about gays. Mikhail Dyegtyaryov caused uproar in August when he suggested that gay people should no longer be allowed to donate blood.

In June a new law came into force forbidding any activity that could promote homosexuality. The law drew protests from around the world and there have been calls for a boycott to the Winter Olympics in Sochi next year. Stephen Fry is just one of the international gay rights activists who support a boycott.

In September a protest by gay rights activists outside the winter Olympics headquarters in Moscow was broken up by police. President Putin has decreed a ban on all demonstrations and rallies for 10 weeks around the Games.