Warning: distressing content
A 30-year-old gay Russian man has publicly identified himself as one of the victims of Chechnya’s so-called “gay purge”.
Maxim Lapunov (pictured) is the first to be named and pictured as a victim of the violent campaign of gay persecution in the Russian region that authorities, including president Ramzan Kadyrov, have repeatedly denied is occurring.
Lapunov said he was living and working in the Chechen capital of Grozny when he was jailed by police in March.
“One part of the jail cell was already blood-soaked. I was already stressed,” he said.
“They started to beat me, and every 10 to 15 minutes they would come in and yell, ‘He’s gay and people like him should be killed.’
“They put my face to the wall. They beat me on the back of my legs and hips.
“I would collapse and they would give me a chance to catch my breath before telling me to get up again. And it would start again.”
He said he could “barely crawl” when he was released, and he was still haunted by the groans and screams of other prisoners.
Human Rights Watch’s Tanya Lokshina, the co-author of a damning report about the violence released earlier this year, praised Lapunov for his “incredible bravery and courage.”
She said it was significant that he was the first person to file an official complaint about being tortured, because many victims had been resistant to come forward for fear of retribution from their families.
“Russian authorities at different levels made numerous statements about the fact that not a single victim filed an official complaint and that made it easy for officials to dismiss the [reports] as rumours,” she said.
Igor Kochetkov of the Russian LGBT Network, a group that has helped Chechen men flee to safety, said as many as 15 men released by police to their families had disappeared.
“There have not been crimes like this on European territory since the Nazis — where they kill people just because they are gay,” he said.
In an interview with HBO in July, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said the allegations were “nonsense”.
“We don’t have those kinds of people here. We don’t have any gays. If there are any, take them to Canada,” he said.
“Praise be to god. Take them far from us so we don’t have them at home. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.”
But the Russian LGBT Network said on October 10 the persecution of the region’s gay people was continuing despite the global outcry.
They said since March this year more than 150 people had contacted them for assistance, 79 had fled Chechnya and 53 people found safety outside of Russia.
Last month, it was reported that 31 men had secured emergency visas and were safe in Canada.
Lithuania, Germany and France have also granted visas to men who have fled the region since April.
(Photo by Novaya Gazeta via YouTube)