Couples held a sit-in with collective kissing in front of the Colosseum yesterday after two men were arrested for ‘public indecency’ in front of the iconic Roman monument last week.

Politicians and campaigning groups say the arrests were symptomatic of a rising tide of homophobic harassment in Italy, but the police force, the Carabinieri, say they were simply following the law.

An extract from the police report, published by Italian daily Corriere della Sera, said that the couple, identified as ‘Roberto L’, 27 and ‘Michele M’, 28 “had their trousers and underpants down.”

“They acted because there was a couple that was committing a lewd act in front of one of the most viewed monuments in Italy,” said Carabinieri official Alessandro Casarsa, speaking to AP.

“We apply the law to all in the same way, men and women. True discrimination would have been to not arrest them.”

Gay rights group Arcigay, said the couple had just shared a gesture of affection after a night out at one of the gay bars lining a street near the Colosseum.

“Roberto and Michele were only kissing, all other statements are false,” they said in a statement.

“It’s worrying that a gesture of affection is considered a crime,” said Vladimir Luxuria, a Communist party representative and Italy’s first transgender member of parliament, speaking to Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica.

“It’s absurd that two young people who love each other should spend the night in a police station without having done anything obscene.”

Despite the controversy, campaigning groups were celebrating on Friday, after Italy’s highest criminal court announced that gay people who seek refuge from persecution in Italy would not be sent back to their countries of origin.