Several members of a religious group in Moscow patrolling a small park in the city that they claim is used by gay men as a meeting place have been beaten up.

Earlier this week around 50 people gathered to “reclaim” the park and launch their campaign.

The activists said they would ask people they suspect are gay to leave the park during their nightly patrols.

The Ilyinskiye Vorota square has a small park and statues to Russian war heroes.

Nationalist and religious groups had claimed that gay men use the space, in the shadow of the Kremlin, as a meeting spot.

Interfax news agency has reported that late on Saturday night five young men went to the police to report an attack on them carried out by up by eight men.

A spokeswoman for a Russian Orthodox youth group earlier told Intelfax they wanted to target gay men:

“They boldly demonstrate their non-traditional orientation, persuading everyone that it is normal.

“We believe that it is a vice and want to remove all this from this site, which is sacred to Russians.”

The Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, is being asked to confirm that the patrols are legal.

He banned last month’s gay Pride march, and has made a string of homophobic statements in the past few years.

When gay activists tried to deliver a letter of protest to his office last month, they were pelted with eggs and assaulted by a small mob of anti-gay Russians.