Two more survivors have spoken about their treatment during what they called a “big cleansing of gays” in the Russian region of Chechnya.
Russian newspaper Novaya Gazetta first reported last March that men had been abducted and killed as part of an alleged “anti-gay purge” – repeatedly denied by authorities but confirmed by human rights groups – in Chechnya.
A 30-year-old man named Ruslan told BBC Russian (as translated by Newsweek) that he was outed to his family when his daughter-in-law discovered text messages he had sent to his boyfriend on his phone.
He said his own family confiscated his passport, ID and phone and locked him in a bedroom for a month. After he finally managed to leave the house, he borrowed a phone to call his boyfriend, who helped him get to Moscow.
“In Chechnya there was a big cleansing of gays. People working for Kadyrov would target one person and through blackmail and beating would force him to surrender others,” Ruslan told the BBC.
“Some were caught, taken to the cellars, beaten violently, others were not found.
“Relatives sometimes did not even look for them, as they wanted to wash away the shame.”
Meanwhile, a 20-year-old woman named Marko said she was put through a kind of “exorcism” by her family to rid her of the “demons” they told her were inside of her.
She said she managed to trick her family into thinking she was “cured” by pretending to speak in tongues and twitching her body to make it appear as though the demons were “leaving” her.
“They told me directly, either you do something else, or we will kill you,” she said.
“Even if my family does not want to kill me, there are a huge number of relatives who do and they will not stop until it’s done.”
Both the Chechen government and the Russian Kremlin have repeatedly denied allegations that gay men have been detained and tortured in the region.
Chechnya’s staunchly anti-gay president Ramzan Kadyrov (pictured) has said all of the reports were false because Chechnya “doesn’t have these kinds of people.”
Last October, one survivor bravely identified himself as one of the victims. Maxim Lapunov said he was living and working in the Chechen capital of Grozny when he was jailed by police in March.
“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,’” he told a press conference.
“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.”